Did you ever peruse one of those fancy vending machines at an airport and wonder just who would buy an iPad from a hopped up Coke machine? Then prepare to be even more perplexed when you see the new Carvana car coin-operated vending machine. Yes, coin-operated.
Carvana is an online car retailer that delivers cars to you and lets you keep them for a week to see if you like what you bought. It’s like Zappos for automobiles. The new Nashville vending machine is a huge glass structure that actually delivers your car when you insert a special coin, along with tapping your name into the terminal. Then, you get to watch the machine go to work. If you’re impressed with the spirals that dispense candy bars in regular vending machines, you’re going to love this machine. Hopefully it won’t get stuck like those spirals, though, hanging the car over the gap so you need to buy another one to knock it off the edge.
The vending machine is a bit of a gimmick, meant to promote Carvana’s online car store. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to build a conventional warehouse, and have humans go pick up the cars? “Yes, the Vending Machine cost a lot in time and energy to build,” says Carvana’s Alison Deffner, “because we had to coordinate engineers and architects from all over the world. But it costs almost nothing to run.” Customers can use the machine without any charge (apart from buying the car, of course), and still get Carvana’s cheap online prices.
Despite all the automation, you still have to do the buying part of the transaction before you can head down to the structure and take possession. There’s no impulse buying of a Porsche at 3 a.m., with just the swipe of your Amex to pay for it, but Deffner says that customers don’t want that. “People still do a lot of research from their computer before buying a car and when they’re ready to purchase, they want to do it as quickly and as easily as possible,” she told us. “[They can] purchase a vehicle online, wherever they are, and then pick it up (or have it delivered) without the hassles of a dealership.”
That doesn’t make the actual machine any less impressive. Once you drop in your coin, robots moves the car from the storage tower, onto a track, which then brings it to one of the delivery bays. Customers will get a video of the process to show to their friends. “People are amazed by it,” says Deffner. “They can’t stop smiling, and it’s been hard to keep it a secret.” (The official launch is today.)
Will vending machine become a normal way to buy cars? Maybe. Carvana plans to roll out more of them to make online buying much easier. Just pay, then head over to pick up. Who needs to deal with slimy car salespersons anyway? Isn’t that the whole point of online shopping?
But perhaps car vending machines will be beaten out by an even more convenient option: Self-delivering cars. If you buy a driverless car, surely it should deliver itself to your own front door? I asked Deffner what she thought about that. “Yeah, why not?” she said. “As soon as they can, we’ll be the first to offer it to our customers.”