A multistorey car vending machine by Alibaba's online shopping platform Tmall and automotive company Ford is seen in Guangzhou. Picture: Reuters stringer

Guangzhou, China - A gigantic "vending machine" for cars that allows self-service test drives has opened in the south China city of Guangzhou.

The multi-story facility was launched by Tmall, an online retail arm of China's e-commerce giant Alibaba, in a steel-framed building of almost 1000 square metres that holds up to 42 vehicles.

Customers can make an appointment for a three-day test drive by searching the keywords "super test drive" on the Tmall or Taobao apps, providing their identification details, and paying a deposit and a fee for the service on their mobile phones. They can then access the vehicles in the garage by themselves. 

During the first month of operation, the facility will only offer Ford vehicles, at a deposit of 3000 yuan (R5680) and a service fee of 99-198 yuan (R185-R370), depending on the model, although customers are eligible for discounts on the deposit and fee, based on their score on Alibaba's credit scoring unit Sesame Credit.

After the test drive, customers can buy the car through a conventional Ford dealership.

The self-service test drive scheme is part of a digital marketing joint venture between Alibaba and Ford. Tmall is in talks with other carmakers interested in the service, and plans to build similar facilities in Beijing and Hangzhou soon, before expanding to more major cities within a year.

Xinhua