Jumping On The Virtual Reality Bandwagon

Automakers are beginning to use virtual reality technology in some interesting ways. One way VR can make a big splash is at the dealership. 

If Cadillac has its way, it could completely change the way consumers shop for vehicles. The General Motors division in February encouraged some of the lowest-volume dealerships to go virtual. The automaker sees twin benefits of the technology: Enhance the customer experience while also shaving off some of the $2.75 billion U.S. dealers spend annually on interest to keep new vehicles on their lots.

The Wall Street Journal reports that as part of its “Project Pinnacle,” Cadillac plans to convert some of its dealerships into all-VR showrooms, which is to say, very few vehicles to test drive and no inventory to purchase.

Audi is another automaker planning to roll out technology by year’s end that will allow shoppers to choose their dream car and see it via virtual reality technology, right down to the color of the upholstery and the wheel rims. 

Buyers will be able to walk into a dealership, slip on an HTC Vive headset and walk into an empty room where, thanks to virtual reality magic, they’ll see the car they’re hoping to buy in front of them. The car is shown in actual scale, so it will be just like they’re standing in front of the real thing. 

Customers can then ask sales reps about the car, and reps can show them extra details of the car in the virtual world. If the buyer isn’t satisfied with what they’re looking at, say, the car is too small for their needs, they can swap it out for another model and see how that one works. 

“You’re wearing the glasses and you really think you’re in the car,” Marcus Kuehne, Audi’s virtual-reality project lead tells Bloomberg. “You get a good feeling for the size — do the rims fit to the body of the car, do the colors inside the car fit well together?” he said. “You can judge this much better through this technology than on a screen.”

Over at Porsche, the high-end luxury automaker’s VR app has facilitated 2.2 times more virtual test drives than actual test drives from the United States’ 188 dealerships combined, according to the automaker. To continue the upscale experience, the brand created limited-edition Porsche-branded Google Cardboard VR viewers wrapped in faux-leather.

Ford is also using VR technology, but in a different way. The automaker’s designers are using it to test out its cars. They no longer have to build physical models or prototypes of vehicles. The VR technology allows them to approve or change designs earlier. The technology also allows Ford’s engineers from all over the world to collaborate on a single car without having to travel.

Toyota has been using virtual reality to connect with consumers at its auto show displays to demonstrate the importance of good driving habits and safety. Show attendees sit in a car, put on a VR headset, and drive using a stimulator. The system throws distractions at the driver.

Other automakers turning to VR technology include Volvo and Lexus, which are already using VR headsets  to provide prospective customers with virtual test drives. Volvo even allows people to make their own headsets using cardboard and their smartphone, so that they can experience the new XC90 while at home via Volvo Reality, “a full virtual reality test drive on your phone.”

“We can deliver an experience that is so much richer than simple videos or pictures,” said Bodil Eriksson, from Volvo Cars product communications team in a release. “We can now transport people into a 360-degree world where they can explore and experience the next-generation luxury SUV.”

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