By Nimra Noor, International Business Editor
Chinese e-commerce company, Alibaba and U.S. carmaker, Ford Motor have collaborated to create a massive car vending machine that dispenses vehicles to anyone interested in purchasing a Ford – assuming their “social credit score” is high enough. The machine, dubbed the “Super Test-drive Center,” is the product of a partnership agreed upon between Ford and Alibaba last year that would see the companies work together on new technological innovations.
Located in Guangzhou, China, the cat-themed giant vending machine is stocked full of the latest line of vehicles from Ford and offers a range of vehicles for three-day test drives. The five-story contraption, which holds 42 vehicles in all, is essentially a Ford-branded garage with rotating platforms, similar in design to parking garages commonly seen in Asian countries.
Considering the Super Test-drive Center as an “an important part of Alibaba’s new retail strategy,” Gu Wanguo, general manager of vehicles at Tmall Auto said “By leveraging Alibaba’s data intelligence and technologies, the auto vending machine and super drive test services can enable auto brand owners and distributors better serve their customers.”
Interested parties in China can approach the machine at any time to request a vehicle to test drive. The vending machine is unmanned and is operated entirely through Alibaba’s Tmall app, a shopping app for smartphones. Through the app, consumers can select the model of vehicle they are interested in, schedule a pickup time, and take a picture of themselves that the vending machine will use to identify them when they arrive to pick up the vehicle for a test drive. If customers do not like the car they initially chose, they have the option to try another, up to a limit of two. If they decide to make the purchase after the test drive, they can visit any of Ford’s 4S showrooms to pay the remaining balance after paying the deposit on Tmall app.
However, there is a significant catch for those aspiring to get behind the wheel of one of the Fords stocked in the vending machine: test drives are only available for free to potential buyers who have a “social credit score” of at least 700. Those with a score lower than that threshold are required to pay a fee.
The Chinese government rates its citizens using a social ranking system, which provides ratings to people based on their behavior. Those with high scores in the system benefit from lower tax rates and other financial opportunities; however, those with a lower score, caused by activities considered unacceptable by the government, are punished. According to a recent report by the Telegraph, the credit system has already been used to ban more than 12 million Chinese people from traveling by plane in the country
For those who qualify to use the machine, Ford and Alibaba have stocked it with 10 model choices for their customers. The concept of storing cars in such a fashion nearly eliminates theft, damage and often results in storing more cars in less space. If nothing else, the Super Test-Drive Center will be an interesting shopping experience for its potential customers.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 10th print edition.
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