European readers may be quite familiar with the concept of a tower full of tiny vehicles, dispensing them to people below.
Smart used just such a building to store its vehicles at Smart dealerships all around Europe when the vehicle was first released.
Now, China is using a similar system for tiny electric cars (via Treehugger), as part of a car sharing service hoping to make China's smog-choked streets just a little cleaner.
China has long struggled with smoggy streets but the issue became much more public when the country hosted the Olympic Games back in 2008. Several athletes complained about the pollution and such problems have only become more public since--in the past year, Chinese cities have broken all manner of "highest smog ever recorded" records.
Not all the pollution is down to road traffic, though some cities have limited the sale of cars and others have incorporated pollution taxes.
But cleaning up road transportation is a real goal in China right now, and systems like the electric car sharing program from Kandi Technologies Group are the first steps towards that goal.
Like the Smart dispensers seen across Europe, Kandi's cars--two-seat, 75-mile range electric vehicles--are stored in big towers that dispense Kandis like... well, candy.
Building upwards solves one of the issues associated with China's pollution and traffic problems, that of a lack of space to park. The cars are simply stored in big towers where they're charged up, and other cars are plucked from their pigeonhole to serve the needs of other customers.
It operates largely like the similar bike-sharing operation in the city of Hangzhou, the largest of its type in the world. Customers can select a car from the tower and drive across the city, where it's deposited in another.
Kandi electric car (Image: Kandi Technologies Group)
It costs just $3.25 an hour to rent one of the vehicles, which are much safer than the electric and non-electric bicycles and scooters that many residents use to get around the city.
How quickly the system will grow depends on how Hangzhou's drivers take to the idea, but the company has big plans--it aims to have 750 of the towers across the city in the next four years, and 100,000 vehicles to fill them. That would be achieved through a 50-50 joint venture with huge Chinese automaker, Geely Automotive.
It's a project with massive potential, and could be perfectly placed to benefit from a Chinese populace more and more able to afford their own vehicles--or those looking to switch from more basic transportation such as scooters.
If businesses such as Kandi can prevent a rise in city center pollution before it gets any worse--or even reduce the current issues, then those unusual car vending machines are likely to become a familiar sight in China.