[Carvana’s humongous vending machine mock-up in Austin during SXSW 2017.]
We caught up with Carvana here in Austin, TX, at SXSW 2017. The Phoenix-based used car company calls itself a start up, but the truth is that it’s been around for at least four years, having been founded in 2013. Carvana claims that they’re new vending machine technology, which was first reported on last month, allows users to find used cars easily and then make major life decisions in the form of a car purchase, hassle-free, via massive vending machine.
There are a lot of things one could say about this, but we’ll stick to what’s simple: It’s an interesting concept. Carvana has managed to take elevator parking lot technology and spin it into the age-old paradigm of a vending machine, which is novel, and will grab eyes and attention. That could be a better use of advertising and PR spend than regular TV or Super Bowl commercials and billboards.
Behind the glitz and the novelty, there’s a bit more going on here. Carvana is backed by DriveTime, an auto seller that uses the Buy Here Pay Here used car model of sales, which allows sub-prime auto-lenders access to high quality used vehicles. This means that the organization is less about the vending machines and more about retailing vehicles from the same auto exchanges that Carmax and others get their vehicles from.
Still, despite the vending machine gimmick, Carvana has some great promise as a used car dealer. In 2015, Forbes named them one of America’s most promising companies, and Carvana has been lauded for their website, which lists cars via a 360-degree view that’s unmatched in the used-auto industry.
While the vending machine technology feels like a gimmick, it sure is impressive to watch the display at SXSW. Sometimes a company may head to a start-up venue like SXSW 2017 seeking to reinvent itself. It seems like 2017 was the year that Carvana chose to do just that.