Used car 'vending machines' popping up along Southland freeways

ONTARIO, Calif. (KABC) -- We're all familiar with the vending machine. Sweet and salty treats dispensed to quell hunger pangs, just by slipping in some bills or coins.

How about an enormously scaled-up variation that dispenses used cars? A new towering eight-story glass building has been built right beside the San Bernardino Freeway in Ontario.

"I was driving on the freeway and I noticed the construction of it. And I kept thinking 'What is it going to be? Is it going to be some kind of skydiving place?'," wondered Danelle Miller of Upland.

Welcome to car buying in the digital age.

"When we first started, we offered home delivery to our customers, which we still do offer. And when it came to offering a pick-up option, we knew it had to be fun, it had to be exciting, it had to be different. And so the idea of a car vending machine came to life," said Amy O'Hara, spokesperson for Carvana.

"The hard work began of actually having to build one," she added with a chuckle. The mechanism is a proprietary design and built by a German engineering firm.

So far, there are two Carvana vending locations in California: One is in Westminster, right next to the often-crowded 405, and the second one is in Ontario, next to busy Interstate 10.

"Very impressive, especially at night. You drive by on the 10 Freeway, and you see all these cars and think 'What is this place about?'," said Robert Juarez of Victorville. The professional truck driver saw it while going by while working, then came by in his own car to have a closer look. He's currently in the market for a newer car.

Most of the Carvana transaction is done online, including financing. They offer all manner of pre-owned cars from all brands, an all styles, and in all price ranges. Sign a few papers at the vending location, and you're then handed a huge novelty coin. You put it into a large kiosk to set the German-built contraption in motion.

Your new-to-you used car is pulled from its perch and brought to ground level, all by robotics, in a matter of seconds. If it all sounds rushed, you do have seven days to change your mind. Carvana doesn't really offer test drives, but if you're unhappy with your purchase, you can exchange it within that seven-day period.

Sure, this is a gimmick. The selected used cars really aren't that different than other ones you find at other pre-owned car lots. But the used car business is competitive these days, and a big deal. For years, used cars were the target of mockery. From stand-up comedy, to feature films. But they're no laughing matter these days. Last year, 17.3 million new cars were sold in the U.S. But more than 40 million used or pre-owned cars changed hands by comparison.

And if you can try to sell them with a gimmick, as Carvana is doing, all the better.

"Oh my God, it's like a big gumball machine. I'm inside the gumball machine," said Shay Williams of Ontario. Like others, she was intrigued after seeing it from a distance, and wanted to come by and check it out up close.

There are now 21 of these Carvana machines in the U.S., but look for more as word gets out. Novelty can pay off.

"And it's always fun to be able to say that you got your car in a vending machine," said O'Hara.
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