Carvana's car vending machine towers look like giant, inverted PEZ dispensers.
That was always my thought, anyway, when I saw Carvana advertisements on television or online. It was a weird idea placing vehicles for sale in a giant high-tech tower that looks like it might as well be spitting out multicolored rectangular-shaped sugar tablets. If you accept the concept, then the contraptions dispensing a vehicle after purchase aren't that different from buying a turkey sandwich or bag of potato chips from a vending machine at the airport.
At the same time, the car vending machines come across as creative as hell and, well, fun. It's one such example from a company that has tried to use retail technology innovations with vision and flair since its 2012 debut.
A decade later, Carvana has been in the news for dire reasons. As Automotive News' C.J. Moore reported last month, the online used-vehicle retailer lost $806 million during 2022's fourth quarter, a larger-than-expected loss. For the year, Carvana lost $1.6 billion, and the company's annual vehicle sales dropped for the first time in its history.
As Moore's coverage noted, plenty of things hurt the company in 2022, including significant increases in inflation and interest rates and lower consumer demand tied to affordability concerns. While Carvana is working this year to trim inventory, pull back on growth plans and reduce its expenses, analysts aren't sure that it will be enough to right the ship.
That's a shame. Whatever the broader auto industry thinks of Carvana, it has brought new approaches to auto retailing that stand out. The company helped popularize car delivery to your door, among other things.
Recently, I looked at a YouTube video Carvana posted in 2018 illustrating how its car vending machine works. Customers who want to pick their cars up after purchase come by, put a giant silver coin in a slot, and the machine commences with an elaborate automated process that brings the vehicle to ground level. Then, buyers can drive the car away and even keep the coin they use.
Time will tell whether that fun inverted PEZ dispenser and Carvana itself have staying power.