Automotive companies have been pushing the inclusion of VR into their sales strategies for the past year, and show no signs of slowing down. The reason? Those dang young people again. So, what are we to make from all of this? Does it mean that the car buying experience of today is no more?
You’re hunched over at your desk as rain beats unrelentingly onto the windows of your office. You find yourself lost in thought, coasting down the Pacific coastline in the supercar of your choice. It’s relaxing to say the least, but like all good daydreams, it begins to develop grander and grander aspirations. Next you’re driving across the water, then into the skies a la Christopher Lloyd, and then suddenly you’re driving your Audi R8 on the moon!
Perhaps in regards to our daydream, but this is a quite tangible experience being developed by Audi for the past couple months, and encapsulates perhaps the most important aspects of VR, or virtual reality, for the automotive industry: selling cars without making it feel like you’re selling cars.
Companies like Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Infiniti have been pushing the inclusion of VR into their sales strategies for the past year, and show no signs of slowing down. The reason? Those dang young people again. With an ever-increasing shift towards mobile technologies securing the attentions spans of millennials, car manufacturers are searching for a way to grab their slice of a rapidly diminishing pie. According to Autotrader, 88% of shoppers claim that they wouldn’t purchase a car unless they were able to take a test drive in it first. To compound the problem, Francine Harsini, senior director of marketing at Mitsubishi Motors North America, has expressed her frustration at the difficulty of getting said buyers into dealerships in the first place. Where these companies could take the old Seymour Skinner approach to this problem, they have chosen instead to adapt, and have so far been met with success.
During the 2016 NCAA Final Four, Infiniti gave attendees of the event a chance to ride shotgun in a Q50 with retired NBA star Jalen Rose at the wheel. Of those that interacted with the experience, a reported 50% of participants opted to receive future communications from Infiniti, a quite impressive rate according to Infiniti’s director of marketing communications and media Allyson Witherspoon. The video went over so well, in fact, that Infiniti invested in a second video.
While these offerings from Infiniti play with the lighter side of VR salesmanship, it goes without saying that the creation of a virtual showroom remains a key point in most auto companies VR strategy, with used-car websites getting in on the action as well. Online dealer Vroom is one of these contenders and has recently created an app that allows viewers to view 30 sport car models from all angles, giving buyers the chance to analyze safety features and hear the luxurious purr of each engine as if they were about to get behind the wheel. Vroom promises 300 models by the end of the year in addition to bringing the experience to Google Cardboard (the action’s only on higher-end VR like the HTC Vive for right now).
Where VR has been used as a handy tool to entice new buyers, it’s proving to be a firmly embedded technology for even the car manufacturers. Ford utilizes VR at its production plants to give its employees, from designers to engineers, a chance to inspect every detail about the cars before they’re built. While this may sound a little too much like a game, this technology links to Ford’s Autodesk, which includes a CAD (computer aided design) system, allowing every change made in VR to be reflected real time onto the appropriate model in the database. It’s worth mentioning that Ford hasn’t been at this for two months; they’ve been embracing this process for two years.
Tier10 has also entered the VR world, producing 360-degree VR videos for its automotive associations. Check out the video above.
So, what are we to make from all of this? Does it mean that the car buying experience of today is no more?
Not really. If you believe Autotrader, the desire to test drive the real deal will continue to outweigh that of its virtual counterpart, and we don’t have the power to create a realistic enough emulation of said experience (yet). However, as VR continues to entrench itself deeper into normalcy, it will only become more powerful and more accessible, and the titans of the automotive industry will (and have taken) notice. Lace up those moon boots.