When hunger or thirst hits unexpectedly, you might buy something from a vending machine. That convenience has carried over into the auto world with car vending machines popping up across the United States and in other countries like Singapore and China. But why would anyone get a car from a vending machine? How do they work? Is this a glimpse into the future? Will car rental companies like Sixt use this model? We dig into this new car storage trend to find some answers.
How Car Vending Machines Work
The first thing to know is that most of the car vending machines in the US are simply a way to pick up a used car that has already been purchased. Some of these vending machines give you a novelty token to put in and then your car is retrieved. However, you cannot just go to a car vending machine and impulse buy a vehicle.
In China, Ford and Alibaba have teamed up to make a car vending machine with a twist. This “Super Test Drive Center” for the auto maker’s cars allows potential buyers to select a car via an app and take it for a three-day test drive. And with its giant cat ears on the roof, this car vending machine is a conversation piece.
Why More Car Vending Machines are Appearing
In the US, it is mostly one company, Carvana, that is building and opening the vending machines. They are multiple stories tall and advantages include being able to store cars in a smaller space that is almost theft-proof and protects the vehicles from damage. This is not unlike the concept of some parking garages in big cities that store more cars than there are parking spaces via mechanical lifts. The downside to these car vending machines is that mechanical malfunctions can occur, leading to a customer not being able to retrieve a car. The buildings are also more expensive to build than simply paving and maintaining a parking lot.
A 15-story vending machine with space for up to 60 luxury autos opened in Singapore in early 2017. The machine is stocked with used Bentleys, Porsches and Ferraris and customers can look at available autos on a touchscreen on the ground floor. The owner of the vending machine, Autobahn Motors, said they built it to save space.
Is This the Future?
It is unclear whether car vending machines will become more commonplace. So far, they are mostly limited to a handful of used car companies in a handful of countries. In Germany, car makers like Volkswagen have used these automated car towers to store new, customized vehicles for customers to pick up.
As for use of this car vending machine model by car rental companies, Sixt has no plans to adopt it and no other companies have announced plans to house their cars this way.