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Virtual Reality has already had a great impact on the world, especially in the entertainment industry. Consumers are now able to immerse themselves in different worlds, completely revolutionizing the customer experience.

Just like the entertainment industry, VR is changing the game in the automotive world, allowing automakers, designers and dealerships to explore new avenues for their businesses. VR’s impact on the automotive industry has seen new user-experience models that have replaced traditional processes, providing more accurate, productive and, most importantly, enjoyable alternatives.

To find out more, Auto Futures explores a few of the different VR solutions available today, including Audi’s VR showrooms, Seymourpowell’s Reality Works Sketching Tool and Zerolight’s high-quality and scalable VR/AR experience software.

Virtual Reality Showrooms

These days, no one wants to travel to car showrooms. It takes too much time, doesn’t have every vehicle specification and is incredibly boring. Many of us would agree that showrooms have been struggling for some time now, no matter how charismatic your salesperson is. However, through the power of technology, the showroom experience can now be enjoyable, accessible and provide a great experience. And, soon, these showrooms will be accessible from the comfort of your home.

Audi is one of the few automakers already providing a virtual showroom to customers, introducing its VR Experience to sites around the world. The German automaker’s VR solution allows the customer to get an extremely realistic experience of their configured car, utilising the brand’s IT systems to build their dream car with several hundred million possible models and equipment variants.

The VR system operates in three dimensions and 360 degrees, with realistic light and sound effects, such as various environments, times of day, and light conditions. Audi also allows customers to use ‘x-ray vision’ and look beneath the surface of the car, into the structure of its technical components.

To top this all off, the VR headset offers customers the chance to experience ‘special Audi moments’, throwing them into virtual experiences, including becoming a race driver in the Le Mans 24 Hours race.

“With the VR experience, we have developed a full-fledged sales tool for Audi dealers. It offers our customers more information and certainty when making their purchasing decision, as well as a special excitement factor,” says Nils Wollny, Head of Digital Business Strategy/Customer Experience at Audi. “With this, we are taking the next step in our strategy to combine digital innovation with the strengths of the bricks-and-mortar dealership.”

Designs of the Future

Vehicle design has come a long way from clay carvings. Although a beautiful process, it was only a matter of time before designers, who are always looking for new ways to improve the process, utilised VR technology to open up new possibilities.

Design house Seymourpowell is heavily involved in the VR designing process, assisting creatives in building future transport through its innovative Reality Works Sketching Tool.

“When a new technology such as VR arrives within the creative industry, we tend to talk about what antiquated part of the process it will replace,” says Seymourpowell Designer Jonny Culkin. “At Seymourpowell, we have found the opposite; our self-developed Reality Works Sketching Tool has streamlined, supplemented and enhanced nearly all phases of our design process, from initial sketches through to final visualisation. As a consultancy, we are continuously looking for ways to innovate, not just in design but in the design process itself. We have come to see technology, and VR specifically, as a way of further unlocking our creativity.”

VR technology is revolutionising the way design houses such as Seymourpowell interact with their clients. Through its VR innovation, the company can develop a virtual space for collaborators around the world, immersing all parties in the design process from the creator’s viewpoint.

In most cases, VR has been an exclusive experience to whoever puts on the headset. However, the Reality Works Sketching Tool also implements augmented reality through a mobile app, allowing multiple people to engage in the design at once.

“We have the ability to truly collaborate with project stakeholders, connecting through Reality Works to clients in all corners of the globe, enabling us to share a virtual space which allows them to become truly immersed in our thinking at all stages in a project which is something that traditional telco presentations could never allow,” continues Culkin.

By combining styling, 3D computer-aided design, clay modelling and engineering into one package, designers can sketch, asses and develop at full scale. Quite simply, this is a fantastic innovation for the automotive design world that will continue to improve as more automakers jump on board.

Connecting with Customers

Automakers have always tried to outdo each other with vehicle launches, marketing products as the latest and greatest innovation the world has ever seen. Now, more than ever, these companies are looking to sell a lifestyle, rather than a one-off product, which is why you see a lot of adverts centred around happy families, stylish groups of friends enjoying life and technology that is a continuation of your life – most notably, through social media.

But this still doesn’t let consumers fully-understand or experience what it means to hop into a BMW or Porsche and take it for a spin, feeling every twist and turn as they speed through the Alps or down Route 66. This is what buying a sports car is all about, moments of sheer joy and excitement… which is a bit difficult to understand without driving these vehicles.

Zerolight’s high-quality and scalable VR/AR experience software helps automakers overcome this hurdle, by introducing potential customers through an experience like no other.

“The automotive industry is going through massive changes and one of the challenges is the redefinition of the entire customer buying journey experience. At ZeroLight, we leverage technologies such as advanced VR and AR, giving dealerships and OEMs new ways to present their products to their customers,” says François de Bodinat, CMO ZeroLight.

“BMW used VR to enrich their M Drive tour track day by proposing both a real and a virtual experience to key customers. Supercar manufacturer Pagani uses VR to help their lucky customers choose paints and other key options that would make their car totally unique. Audi uses VR at their point of sales, in dealerships, to propose a virtual validation of the car customer configured, before the car is actually ordered. All those immersive experiences, at each stage of the buying journey, allow OEM to differentiate themselves and increase their fans and customers engagement.”

These are just a few examples of how VR can impact the automotive industry, changing the way we buy, design and experience vehicles. Like most technology, this will continue to develop and create new possibilities for businesses and consumers. We are already starting to see a big VR presence at major events around the world and, as automakers continue to look for new and innovative vehicle launches and brand experiences, it’s safe to say that the future is bright for all invovled.

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