BEIJING -- Ford Motor Co. is expected to sign as early as Thursday a deal with Alibaba Group Holding that may allow the automaker to test selling cars to consumers in China through Alibaba's online retail arm, Tmall, as well as via a new "auto vending machine" store concept, according to a Ford source familiar with the matter.
Representatives of Ford and Alibaba, including Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford and Ford CEO Jim Hackett, are expected to be in Hangzhou on Thursday to sign a letter of intent that outlines the scope of the new partnership.
According to the source, who did not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak with reporters, the deal is intended to position the automaker for an emerging Chinese marketplace where more cars could be sold online.
The partnership would be part of Ford's effort to overhaul its China strategy to revive the growth momentum it has lost in recent months.
Ford global chief spokesman Mark Truby said the company is expected to make an announcement on Thursday in Hangzhou, where Alibaba is based, but declined to comment in advance.
Alibaba spokeswoman Crystal Liu declined to comment.
The source said the proposal could mean that cars purchased online are delivered to buyers by franchised Ford retail stores and would be maintained and repaired by them.
But Ford could also use Tmall's new retail concept called the "Automotive Vending Machine" — a multi-story parking garage that partly resembles a giant vending machine — to sell directly to consumers, the source said. Those cars could come directly from Ford or from its dealers but the details are still to be worked out, the source added.
According to Alibaba, consumers can use their phones to browse through the cars garaged in the store and choose to either immediately buy one or test drive it. The vehicle would be delivered to them on the ground floor.