Carvana rolls out car vending machine

Carvana opens car vending machine tower in Richmond

Cars and signage have been added to the Carvana vending machine tower, which started being illuminated at night in recent weeks. (Photos by Jonathan Spiers)

With its illuminated tower now loaded with cars, one of the oddest and more eye-catching structures to rise in Richmond is ready to roll.

Carvana today is opening the doors of its “car vending machine” tower at 2201 Westwood Ave. The 12-story structure beside Interstate 195 is the online auto seller’s 30th vending machine nationwide. It can hold up to 43 vehicles at a time.

Part customer center, part company billboard, the $4 million facility is the first physical presence for Carvana since it entered the Richmond market in 2016.

Carvana’s Rob Christian in the customer center, which has brick walls and industrial-style hardwood floors.

Customers can opt to retrieve their purchases at the tower, bringing with them a mailed token that’s used to activate the automated machine. It lowers their vehicle down the glass-paneled tower and rolls it out via two vehicle bays complete with runway lights.

The company also offers deliveries to homes or offices, via a distribution hub at an undisclosed location in Petersburg.

The tower comes five years after Carvana initially sought a similar facility near Short Pump. That tower, which would have risen half the height of Richmond’s, was proposed along Interstate 64 within a mile of Richmond-based competitor CarMax’s original location.

A token that’s mailed to customers sets off the vending machine action at the Carvana tower.

Carvana withdrew that proposal after failing to find agreement with neighboring property owners, who had a say in the land’s use.

Designed with its surroundings in mind, the Richmond facility is customized with brick walls and driveways, warehouse-style windows and industrial-style hardwood floors, reflecting the neighborhood that’s between Acca Yard and Scott’s Addition. It sits across from TopGolf.

WHN Architects, out of Charlotte, North Carolina, designed the building, which was built by Colorado-based Catamount Constructors. Kimley-Horn was the engineer. Construction started earlier this year.

A view from inside the Carvana tower.

The customer center, open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, includes a waiting area, reception desk and touchscreen console, which visitors can use to browse inventory, request an offer on a car they want to sell, and familiarize themselves with the Carvana platform. Transactions are encouraged to be made online and off-site.

The building also includes an office area for more than a dozen employees, a detailing bay for vehicles headed for the tower, and the vending machine itself – an automated vehicle turntable and lift system that includes sensors that won’t allow it to operate if anyone is inside the tower space.

Rob Christian, a Carvana vending machine specialist based out of Texas, showed how the machine works during a tour of the facility Tuesday. While it varies market to market, he said the number of requests the company receives for vending machine pickups versus home or office deliveries is usually about a 50-50 split.

Christian added that the company already has customers lined up to retrieve their purchases from the Richmond tower.

Veronica Cardenas, a company spokeswoman, said the location is ideal for Carvana to further establish itself in the market and increase awareness.

“We’re always looking for a great place for it to catch folks’ eye, but that also works well for the community, has the right amount of space and can operate in a manner that allows us to get the cars in and out and service customers appropriately,” Cardenas said.

The 12-story tower at 2201 Westwood Ave. is Carvana’s 30th car vending machine in the U.S. (Courtesy of Carvana)

The Richmond tower is one of the tallest Carvana has built across the country, matching a 12-story vending machine in Atlanta. The first one was built in Nashville in 2016, and recent ones have risen in Las Vegas and Detroit. Another is under construction in Denver.

Meanwhile, Carvana is further establishing itself in the Richmond market with a vehicle inspection and processing center it’s building in Chester. The $25 million facility, totaling 194,000 square feet, is taking shape on a 183-acre tract at 13504-15100 Woods Edge Road, along the east side of Interstate 95 just north of Ruffin Mill Road.

Construction on that facility got underway over the summer and is scheduled to finish in spring 2022. Missouri-based Clayco Construction Co. is the contractor on the project, with WHN designing the one-story building and Richmond-based Timmons Group handling engineering.

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Brian Ezzelle
Brian Ezzelle
12 days ago

Hopefully they don’t have the same issues they had down in Raleigh.

Matt Merica
Matt Merica
12 days ago

I am glad RVA is getting some run out of this, but I just wonder how long it will be before we look back on this car vending machine thing and determine it was a bad joke

Bert Hapablap
Bert Hapablap
12 days ago
Reply to  Matt Merica

Yeah while I’m always open to new ideas, these really just feel like a gimmick. I also wonder what other purpose these buildings could be used for if it ever closes. Not sure you could repurpose that kind of structure.

Andy Kaplan
Andy Kaplan
10 days ago
Reply to  Bert Hapablap

Of course it’s a gimmick. But it does bring attention to their brand. I guess it could always be repurposed as a small parking deck.

Carl Schwendeman
Carl Schwendeman
6 days ago

My biggest problem with Car Carvana is I need to test drive a car before I buy one and I also like talking to a human about this. I would get really nervous about buying a used car and never test driving it before.

Justin W Ranson
Justin W Ranson
6 days ago

They give you 7 days to test drive it and even get it looked over by a mechanic of your choice, which is WAY better than a 15 minute trip down the road and back.