Four months after Alibaba and Ford announced plans, customers can now test drive and buy cars via Tmall and the Ant Financial Social Credit System
In Guangzhou, China, urbanites can now test-drive Ford vehicles via a giant Tmall vending machine. The “Super Test-Drive Center” is unmanned, and works with the Tmall app to let customers select and test a car they’re interested in, place an electronic deposit, set a pickup time, and access the keys to the vehicle using a selfie that’s used to verify the driver’s identity.
The massive structure donning Tmall’s famous cat ears comes after an agreement signed between Alibaba and Ford last year. Alibaba had announced plans to unveil several car vending machines last December, but this is the first real-life manifestation of the deal.
Auto sales in China increase but Ford sales lag behind
Ford has made a concerted effort to build trust with leaders in the Chinese auto industry. Ford is partnered with JMC and Changan to sell vehicles, although it hasn’t pursued joint R&D efforts with either company. Despite a 3% increase in auto sales in China in 2017, sales of Ford vehicles dropping 6% YoY, numbering 1.2 million.
Photo credit SCMP
Ford leaders are planning an ambitious release of new models at the end of 2018 and foresee an increase in sales at that time. The new vending machines could be just the marketing ploy the company needs to compete with U.S. manufacturer GM, which sold 4 million vehicles in China last year.
Vending machines use Alibaba’s Sesame Credit System
Alibaba’s Zhima or Sesame Credit is crucial to the sales platform. The social credit system operated by financial arm Ant Financial uses data from Alibaba’s platforms to establish a score for users. A variety of factors such as social media interactions and Alipay purchases influence the score, which determines users’ access to Ant Financial loans and trustworthiness as buyers and sellers on e-commerce sites.
According to an email sent to Verge, Alibaba said that users with a credit score below 700 will have to pay a fee to use the car vending machine.
Performance of US car vending machine company Carvana bodes well for Chinese launch
Will Alibaba’s vending machine take off? A quick case study of American startup Carvana suggests that it might. The Arizona-based company has been operating car vending machines in the U.S. since 2015, allowing customers to browse vehicles, establish financing, and complete purchases via mobile app before test driving or pickup up the car from a vending machine.
While the company’s volume remains modest having sold 8,300 vehicles in 2017, it reported impressive growth since its initial IPO last April.
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