Would you buy a new car from a vending machine?


There are plenty of good reasons for the consumer NOT to buy new motorcars, writes Iain Robertson, many of which are based on poor experiences, questionable support and zero follow-through, all of which can be resolved…but with a ‘coin-op’?

The vending machine has been with us for decades. Popularised by the Coca-Cola refrigerators appearing in movies and TV series, the drinks firm actually invented its first vending machine in 1929. However, the history of automated retailing is said to go back to the Ancient Greeks, who made a device that could dispense holy water in Egyptian temples.

As with so many devices and inventions, the British are credited with the production of the first vending machines that dispensed tobacco in taverns in the early-1600s. An English publisher by the name of Richard Carlile built a vending machine for newspapers in 1822, while another inventor did the same for stamps in 1867. In 1883, Englishman, Percival Everitt, devised the first vending machines for popular usage on train station platforms. Intriguingly, a distant relative of mine, Thomas Adams, developed the first chewing gum vending machines in America, in 1888.

Since then, everything from coin-op televisions to laundromats, and both food and fuel dispensers have been available. In Japan and China, they have taken the principles to new peaks with complete meal-dispensing machines, on which you can dial-in meat, vegetables and even gravy options, to receive a full-cooked and hot meal at the other end of the process, all for the equivalent of a £3.00 vend.

Okay. Popping bags full of coins into a vending machine is stretching credibility to bursting point, when it comes to buying a new car, but, as Auto Trader (an online purveyor of both new and used motor vehicles) has discovered, following extensive market research, contactless purchasing might be feasible in certain areas. The company’s first (and only) ‘vending machine’, a glass box containing a Renault Zoe EV, located at Spitalfields Market, in the centre of London, provides a publicity generating ‘machine’ of considerable merit. The choice of a Zoe is related to the increased interest in EVs.

Having established a pre-haggled price (through a main dealership, in this case, Lookers), meant that it could be purchased on the spot. The study that took place of 2,000 Brits, mostly from the London area, it needs to be stated, revealed that 92% admitted to being bad at haggling, when it comes to buying a new car, while 79% think our European counterparts are far better at bartering. In fact, haggling on prices (41%) topped buyers’ lists of anxieties about buying a new car, along with the various hidden costs (39%), worrying about making the wrong decision (28%) and having to wait a long time to receive a car after committing to it (25%).

As most motor dealerships are little more than a motor manufacturer’s legal route to the public, it is no real surprise that ‘moving metal’ is central to both of their causes. They can pretend all they like, supported by countless training programmes, experience provisions and Customer Relationship ‘clinics’, that they are seeking brand loyalty but the plain truth is that 99.9% of them could not give a toss. Of course, there exceptions to the rule but the bottom-line is one of timing…and the fastest route to a return-on-investment that it is possible to make.

As a result, the prospect of dealing with an unemotional vending machine, as long as you are 100% certain that what you see behind glass is actually what you want, has much appeal. Mind you, when gaining sight of the mindless vandalism that occurred on some London residents’ motorcars following the recent ‘Notting Hill Carnival’, I would question how long a vending machine is going to last, whether in full public glare, or not.

The bespoke contactless vending machine installed in London, allowed purchases of up to £21,000, not by cash but by contactless payment, via an app. A team of six engineers spent three months designing and building the contactless car dispenser; a custom-made point-of-sale system and key release function, alongside an integrated payment and door release mechanism. The Zoe was priced at £16,000 (RRP: £22,470), a figure agreed with the dealer, meaning that the consumer had no worries about trying to get the best price themselves.

The popularity of the Zoe is reflected in ever-increasing concerns around the environment. Three-quarters of Brits (74%) would consider driving an electric car today, with nearly 4 in 5 Brits (78%) now admitting to being concerned about their carbon footprints, when it comes to buying a new car. A whopping 85% of respondents also declared that the stigma around buying and owning an electric car has now gone, with over half of them (54%) admitting they would buy an electric car next time around. Additionally, when it comes to pollution and emissions in London, no less than 77% of them believe only electric and hybrid cars should be used in London.

There is no mention about the durability of the installation. There is no mention about the legal aspects, such as registration, insurance and road tax payments, all of which are handled normally by dealerships. Yet, Auto Trader feels that some merit lies in acquiring vehicles in this way. As a publicity stunt, it was fantastic. It was only required to survive one day. The prospect of car vending machines, while not impossible is highly improbable.

There is no avoiding the fact that buying a brand-new car is an exciting experience, yet it can be tarnished by anxiety around haggling and knowing whether, or not, you are obtaining the best rates. Showcasing a real-life version on what can be found on the Auto Trader website, brand new cars at transparent pre-haggled prices, is a genuine masterstroke. The key difference is that this Renault Zoe can be purchased at the touch of a card, testing London car buyers’ appetites for EVs, as well as showing a more instantly accessible purchasing potential.

Acquiring a new vehicle through a specialist, reduces to ZERO all of the issues referred to above! Some of those specialists provide help at every step of the process and you do not even have to leave either your office, or your living-room, to get the car of your choice.