Why Nashville’s Car Vending Machine Might Be More Than A Gimmick | Nashville Public Radio

Why Nashville’s Car Vending Machine Might Be More Than A Gimmick

Nov 12, 2015

The neighbors have fielded questions for months as the five-story steel and glass structure rose out of the ground.

"What is that?"

"We just reply that it's a car vending machine," says Anje Clay, who works at the import auto shop next door.

Now that the vehicle dispenser is operational, the online auto retailer can answer for itself. Carvana officials say their brick-and-mortar retail location is more than a head-turning gimmick.

Nashville got the first of this design, but the Phoenix-based company plans to put these vending machines in many of its markets, which currently stretch from Dallas to Raleigh-Durham. Atlanta has a more modest version.

"It’s surprisingly practical," Carvana CEO Ernie Garcia says.

Like any vending machine, this one takes coins. But it’s just for show. Drop the oversized Carvana token in the slot, and the gears start turning inside.

A platform rises from the floor and stops at the correct level. The German-engineered robotics pull the car over. The SUV or sedan drops down, sliding over into a bay for pick-up by the customer.

The vending machine can handle most vehicles, though extended cab pickups and extra long SUVs won't fit.
Credit Blake Farmer / WPLN

Here's why this spectacle makes sense.

With its by-the-interstate location and pulsating neon lights, the vending machine doubles as a Carvana billboard. But it’s more than built-in advertising for the start-up, which launched in 2012.

Right now, when customers pick out a car online,  Carvana usually delivers it to their door. But that costs an average of $200 per vehicle, Garcia says.

“When a customer comes here, they save us money by not making us go drive to them," he says. "Then we’re able to take that savings and invest it in an experience that we think is really fun for them.”

Garcia won’t disclose the price tag to design and build this vending machine, which is the first of its kind in the U.S. But he does say it costs less and is cheaper to run than most car lots.

“It takes a little awesome to make people happy," he adds. "And that’s what we’re trying to do.”