Alibaba, known as the Amazon of China, is to launch a 'vending machine for cars' next year, which it promises will make buying a new vehicle as easy as purchasing a drink.
The investment comes soon after used car retailer Autobahn Motors opened its own 15-storey car dispenser in Singapore in late-2016, and signals the start of a new business model for Alibaba.
Anyone interested in buying a car can browse the selection via a smartphone app, then once the purchase has been confirmed the car is automatically lowered through the tower, ready to be driven out onto the road.
Yu Wei, general manager of the automotive division of Alibaba's Tmall retail platform, said the system "will make buying cars as easy as buying a can of Coke", reports the Financial Times.
Instead of feeding novelty-sized coins into the vending machine, which is expected to hold dozens of cars, potential buyers will have their credit rating checked via Alibaba's own scoring system, called Sesame Credit. After making a 10% down payment, buyers will be given the keys to their new car immediately. An introductory video of the car is shown to customers while it is lowered to street level.
After Autobahn Motors installed its own luxury car vending machine in December sales have soared by 30% to 130 vehicles per year. The company's current stock includes marques from Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren and Rolls-Royce. Overheads are reduced by no longer requiring staff to talk to customers, sell and keep cars clean.
Gary Hong, general manager of Autobahn Motors, said: "The cars always appear in their best light because of the spotlighting. It's like going to a jewellery shop or an Apple store."
Buying expensive cars without having a closer look and a test drive might sound unappealing, but Chinese shoppers have already shown they do not mind purchasing vehicles this way. In 2016, Maserati sold 100 cars in 18 seconds during an online flash sale hosted by Alibaba's Tmall. Alfa Romeo also held its own Chinese flash sale last year, shifting 350 cars in 33 seconds.
Over in the US, Carvana has built vending machines for more everyday vehicles in Tennessee and Texas.