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Ford, Alibaba unveil unstaffed car vending machine in Guangzhou

GUANGZHOU:  US car-maker Ford and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba have unveiled a five storey-tall, unstaffed car vending machine in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

The machine contains 42 cars of various models, including the Ford Explorer and Mustang, reported The South China Morning Post.

Alibaba said that it will be possible to buy a car from the machine without any human help in under 10 minutes.

Users of Tmall - Alibaba's flagship online shopping platform - with good credit scores will be eligible to purchase a vehicle from the vending machine.

All they have to do is select a model on Alibaba's Taobao mobile app and have their faces scanned by the app. Then, when they arrive at the machine, it will verify their identity before the vehicle is delivered.

Buyers will be given a three-day test drive before having to commit to a purchase.

The vending machine will be open to the public till April 23.

Similar machines are planned in Beijing and Hangzhou.

"Sign-up is completely mobile on the Tmall or Taobao mobile app," Mr Gu Wanguo, general manager of vehicles at Tmall Auto, told The South China Morning Post.

"Once a Ford vehicle is chosen, consumers snap a selfie to ensure they are the only person who can take the car, put down a deposit electronically, and schedule a pickup time, all from within the app," he added.

In case a buyer is not satisfied with his selection, he can also take out one other car.

Ford and Alibaba signed a three-year partnership deal last December under which the US car-maker would explore various new retail opportunities through Tmall.

Alibaba is no stranger to selling cars online and via mobile apps: in 2016, a flash sale on its site saw 100 Maserati cars sold in 18 seconds.

Online car shopping has gained traction in recent years, with Tesla pioneering direct sales over the Internet. Other brands such as Hyundai, Daimler Benz, BMW and Volvo have also experimented with selling cars on their websites.- THE STRAITS TIMES

BUSINESS & FINANCE