Ford Motor Co. is using the world's largest vehicle market as a test bed for alternatives to traditional dealer showrooms.
The automaker last week announced a partnership with Alibaba Group Holding to explore cooperation on, among other things, the sale of Ford vehicles in China on Alibaba's online retail platform Tmall. Although Ford has not divulged specific plans, the partnership could involve using the concept of a "car vending machine," where customers use smartphones to browse vehicles housed in a collection several stories high, then wait as they're delivered to the ground floor.
Separately, Lincoln recently launched a number of pilots in China's Hunan province as it experiments with selling models. Amy Marentic, president of Lincoln in China, told Automotive News that the brand last month began testing three ideas: online-only stores using virtual reality and mobile phone technology, popup-like mobile sales centers, and mini delivery centers with room for a couple of show cars and service bays.
In each instance, Marentic says that if the pilots are successful, the methods could eventually make their way to the U.S.
Ford's foray into alternative selling models makes sense in China, analysts say, because the market is highly competitive and primed for growth. And, much like the U.S., consumers are increasingly interested in online sales.
"Ford's partnership with Alibaba will benefit its competitiveness in the Chinese market, as the e-commerce market in China will continue to grow as more consumers opt for online shopping rather than traditional brick-and-mortar stores," BMI Research said in a report last week. "However, Ford dealers will come under pressure if its strategy is successful."