Ecommerce giant Alibaba wants to make the process of purchasing a new vehicle as easy as buying a can of Coke, launching an "auto vending machine" to target the largest new car market in the world.
The Super Test-Drive Center in Guangzhou was launched earlier this year by Alibaba's Tmall and the Ford Motor Group with the goal to "dramatically" improve the car shopping experience for Chinese consumers.
Discussing the initiative with ZDNet at Alibaba's 11.11 Global Shopping Festival in Shanghai on Sunday, company representatives said that the initiative isn't limited to Ford vehicles, and that the likes of Volvo and BMW will soon be on board.
To test-drive a car, Alibaba app users will need to have over 700 points on Alibaba's credit-scoring system, Zhima Credit, and be an accredited Alibaba Super Member.
Customers can browse and select models they want to test-drive via the app catalogue, and after having their eligibility confirmed, the customer is required to take a photo using the app to allow for biometric authentication.
Once at the large vending machine-like garage, the customer then has their face scanned using Alibaba's facial recognition technology before collecting the dispensed vehicle.
The customer can then take the car for a three-day spin.
Terms and conditions of the service include being limited to a total of five test drives of different models.
"Our thinking behind the Car Vending Machine is focused on helping users solve certain problems they face in the car-buying process. To do that, we are building a physical, experiential store that offers staff-less car pickup through facial-recognition, three-day 'deep' test-drives and a one-stop-shop that displays [cars from] all mainstream brands at once," Huan Lu from Tmall's automotive division said.
Alibaba said it had plans to put dozens of Car Vending Machines in cities across China over the next 12 months.
The initiative is part of Alibaba's New Retail play, which aims to merge the online with the offline shopping experience.
Speaking with media at the conclusion of the 2018 Double 11 event on Sunday, Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said his company was looking to take the entire consumer retail market digital.
Alibaba and Ford signed an agreement in December that will see the pair of companies explore areas they can work together to introduce new services in the automotive industry in China and abroad.
The three year deal was touted by Alibaba as redefining the driving experience.
"[Our] infrastructure is open to the entire industry, to help push for an upgrade of the entire automotive sector," Lu added.
The partnership followed Alibaba in September last year announcing it was upgrading its operating system strategy to focus investment on the Internet of Things and automotive sector.
Disclosure: Asha McLean travelled to 11.11 in Shanghai as a guest of Alibaba
After spending five years building an automotive developer ecosystem, Ford is about to see its open source SmartDeviceLink platform put to the test.
The autonomous fleet is now at the disposal of delivery firms in the area including Domino's.
Two-year initiative is expected to kick off by year-end with autonomous vehicles rolling on Chinese roads, following efforts by Ford engineers to equip the vehicles with Baidu's Apollo Virtual Driver System.
The company also intends to offer at least 40 hybrid and all-electric vehicles in the future.
Ford focuses on a "transportation mobility cloud," fusing connected vehicles and smart city IoT devices, as well as a Chariot ride-sharing service, both of which could be transformative to traffic, says Jessica Robinson, Director of City Solutions at Ford.