The way that people experience cars and the world in general, has been changing. Virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality are adding new ways of interacting with and experiencing the world around us.
The German car manufacturer Audi saw the potential for how these technologies could change the automotive industry. It isn’t just that they can be used in cars for entertainment, but that these virtual elements are being used to enhance almost every step of the process.
This is because these technologies can be used for almost everything, from training to the showroom. Numerous manufacturers are already using virtual reality as a way to train staff safely, allowing them to practice virtually before working on machinery or the production line.
Audi has been using some level of virtual reality in its dealerships since 2016. Part of the experience has required staff adjustment, moving away from real world cars, and yet enabling sales through virtual experiences.
Moving towards real-time and interactive visualizations takes dealerships to a new model. A headset can allow visitors to view car models in full detail and full size. However, what’s possible goes far beyond that.
How Virtual Reality Is Impacting Audi Showrooms
Some think that virtual reality could replace real-world showrooms. However, it is unlikely to do that in the near future. Instead, the trend seems to be a combination of remote testing and view at home by potential customers, as well as in-store virtual reality experiences.
Most shoppers nowadays will start with online research. Even those in actual stores considering a product will often look for reviews online before buying. The confidence in online shopping has dramatically grown since the early years, to the point that people are willing to buy cars and even houses online.
However, for the sellers, the challenge has always been providing an end to end experience. With virtual reality, it is now possible for buyers to research, experience, and even test drive virtually – eventually leading to purchase, sometimes without even seeing the car.
That said, it is not the end of showrooms. Many still like to be able to talk to someone, compare products, and get ‘expert’ advice. After all, not everything you read online is a fact. This is where virtual reality is becoming a powerful bridge and tool for salespeople in real-world showrooms.
As reported by sytner.com “[Virtual reality] also opens up the possibility for small dealerships – that may only be able to store a small number of Audi new cars”. The use of virtual reality may reduce showroom sizes, but could also significantly increase showroom numbers as setup costs are greatly reduced, possibly allowing for previously unviable areas to get their showrooms.
As an example of how this can work, the Audi virtual reality experience allows potential customers to view the full range of cars and options from one location. It isn’t a case of “sorry sir, we don’t have that model in stock” anymore. Instead, all models and upgrades can be stored virtually at every showroom, reducing stock requirements.
The Audi system uses stereoscopic 3D rendering and real car construction models to develop its system with Zerolight. The result is virtualized cars that look real, inside and out. Even the inner workings of the engine and mechanisms are included in the experience.
Customers can see more of the car than was possible with real-world demonstrations. As cars in the virtual world include every detail of their real-world counterparts but aren’t solid like their brothers and sisters, customers can see inside engines, doors, and more.
While for many it isn’t a major selling point, it certainly is interesting to be able to view absolutely any aspect of a car. For those with experience and mechanical knowledge, this x-ray style insight into the mechanics behind the car’s features can also help to inspire confidence and increase interest.
How Virtual Reality is Changing Car Sales
Audi has developed its virtual reality application and for most areas, this will run on the Oculus Rift headset. This allows for advanced car models that are realistic and explorable in every way. The graphics, as previously mentioned, are backed by the high-performance technologies of Zerolight.
Taking the viewing any part of the vehicle aspect further, it does allow for sales staff to be able to not only show off the car, but also any new technologies that are built into the models being viewed. Instead of only being able to say the door as a new comfort seating system, it is possible for the customer to actually see it and even compare it to other vehicles.
Most of the time, however, visitors want to see just a few models they like. While this was often possible from a normal showroom, for sales staff virtual reality expands things further.
For example, say that a customer would like to see an Audi RS5. Before virtual reality, the sales staff could show off the RS5 in stock and any possible other models of interest that were in the showroom. With virtual reality as a sales tool, they can now show off the Audi RS5 and any Audi in the entire range that might be of interest to the customer.
What’s more, not only can they show every vehicle of interest, but also every possible adjustment. This is because all of the virtualized cars are based on the real development plans of the real cars, carefully adding almost every detail to size and perfectly displayed.
This means that should a customer want to see the sports trim, with a few extra add-ons, they can do so almost instantly with a few selections within the virtual reality experience. This is an incredibly powerful tool for selling upgrades, as instead of just hearing about the benefits, customers can visually experience exactly what they are considering buying.
Audi is going full-on into incorporating virtual reality with its “Customer Private Lounges” across the region. To date, there are hundreds of dealerships with fully kitted lounges that show off the Audi range virtually.
This means that potential buyers can put on a headset in a safe environment to explore any car they choose. It allows them to configure the car as they please, within the available options. As the virtual world is fully immersive, the scale and vehicles in the virtual environment feel extremely realistic and to size.
Even the lighting can be changed, so the car can be seen shimmering on a summer’s day, or looking aggressive in twilight lighting. This might seem a strange feature at first, but it is a great way for a buyer to see how the car ‘feels’ at night, particularly from the driving seat perspective.
Audi – A Focus on Virtual Reality Experiences
Despite all of the above points being great, for Audi, there is a strong desire to provide a real experience to their customers. Sure, being able to show off all of the features of all possible models is a step, but ideally, you want visitors to be inspired.
After all, this is intended to be a sales tool, and nothing sells better than an amazing experience. It is for this reason that Audi took things one step further, but creating not only virtual environments to view cars, but also virtual experiences that relate to the cars.
This isn’t just related to being in a car, or the environment where the car is set, but with Audi’s history and related experience. Customers can get to feel like they are at the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race, even to the extent of experiencing an ‘up close and personal’ pit stop via “special Audi moments”.
Other Ways Audi is Using Virtual Reality
They are looking at how it can revolutionize the automobile industry. However, Audi isn’t just considering how it can assist with learning, guidance, and virtual meeting. They are also looking to the future, a future where soon we will likely be spending a lot more time in cars where vehicle engagement isn’t required.
These extended realities will likely play a big part in keeping people entertained and connected while on the move. 5G is going to make real automation and even remote operation possible. However, with that bandwidth comes the possibility of live streaming games, events, and more to headsets or other virtual devices.
This can be anything from making the journey more fun with mixed reality games or characters being added along the route, to being able to watch the game live in full virtual reality while being seated in the driver’s seat returning from work.
How cars are seen and how the automotive industry works could be almost unrecognizable in the not too distant future. Assembly line workers could be both trained and able to work remotely with virtual or mixed reality, cars will become autonomous, and sales rooms could shrink and no longer need stock, and that’s if showrooms don’t eventually become entirely virtual … with the test drive vehicle autonomously delivering itself to your door.