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Virtual reality in the driver’s seat

We are seeing a sea change in the way the automotive industry handles retail sales. No longer are dealerships and original equipment manufacturers relying on fixed display assets and physical brochures to attract customers. Instead, these parties are now embracing the new opportunities provided by real-time visualisation. 

This innovative technology is enabling dealerships to provide potential customers with next-generation virtual experiences, which can be accessed both on the sales floor and at home via the internet. Ironically, this new approach allows customers to get closer than ever to their dream vehicles, through digital exploration and full customisation options that simply aren’t available to view in the showroom. New virtual reality (VR) technology is making this possible, playing a crucial role inside an expanding ecosystem of devices, driving the sales process both before and after the purchase has taken place. 

Putting the Customer in Control 

This new digital model for automotive sales, which incorporates exciting technologies like VR, carries benefits for both sellers and buyers – namely, it puts the customer in control. It is already possible for a potential customer to order a test drive, have it delivered to their home, do research, seek finance and configure their chosen vehicle all online. That means the average customer already has a good understanding of what they want before they set foot on the sales floor. This new method of automotive retail is shown through the rapid increase in sales being made digitally – current trends indicate an ongoing rise. 

The overall role of dealerships within the customer buying journey is undergoing a pivotal change, becoming a place that delivers unique brand experiences that engage and excite customers. Such a shift is fuelling investment in technologies like VR, allowing customers to digitally interact with and influence a detailed digital model of their preferred car to scale. Such technology, when combined with ZeroLight’s real time configurator, allows customers to explore and configure their preferred car in an immersive way, enabling them to customise the vehicle to their preference. This provides retailers with increased footfall and longer dwell time, as customers form a deeper connection with the product they have created. This results in better conversion rates, higher specification sales and ultimately a better bottom line. 

Audi’s industry leading Audi City (opens in new tab) stores are a prime example of human-centric retail success in the automotive sector. Sales at the Audi City London store increased by 70 per cent when compared to the traditional showroom that occupied the same site. Customers typically purchased vehicles priced 20 per cent above the starting price as a result of adding optional features and accessories. 

Added to this, ZeroLight (opens in new tab) has also delivered the industry’s most advanced VR solution for three innovative car brands; Audi, and also Toyota and Pagani. ZeroLight’s omnichannel visualisation solution creates compelling VR experiences alongside a suite of other innovations using a single asset. The recent UK showcase of the Toyota C-HR VR Experience at VR/AR World (opens in new tab) demonstrated the effect of utilising virtual reality as part of a campaign before the vehicle’s release, receiving an outstanding response from delegates at the show. 

Each implementation serves a unique role within the purchase journey. Toyota utilises VR as part of an awareness campaign, driving interest in the crossover ahead of the vehicle’s release date. Audi (opens in new tab) utilises VR to facilitate the sale of current models. Pagani utilises the technology after the customer has purchased the vehicle to capture their preferences before construction. The importance of VR is increasingly recognised for its ability to immerse customers and deliver intuitive brand experiences that add value to the retail proposition.   

60 per cent of customers interact with a brand through multiple channels (opens in new tab) irrespective of time, place, device or medium and expect consistency. Therefore, to be successful such solutions must deliver a seamless experience to customers across multiple devices. This includes VR/AR, touch screens, power walls, web etc. Most car manufacturers have already introduced elements of digital across existing routes to market – in store, online, pop-up outlets and mobile applications, for example. 

Typically, car makers go through multiple third parties to develop independent solutions that, when collated, are often expensive and disjointed. An omnichannel approach to visualisation resolves the pipeline problem, harnessing all possible channels with a single solution so that all the content required to showcase the vehicle – whether that means brochures or an immersive 3D virtual experience – can be made available from a single source. 

As part of the omnichannel, the same advancements can be delivered online via the cloud: an approach that is proven to drive engagement and facilitate the purchase of higher-specification cars during a Pilot with website and saw also a 66% increase in interactivity compare to the previous 2D based configurator. According to research from, buyers of new and used cars spend three-quarters of their product search time online, while the figure rises to 82% for the younger millennial generation (opens in new tab), so exploiting the potential of the internet is crucial. 

By providing a highly detailed model of the car in real-time, independent of hardware capabilities, customers have the same capabilities as they would at the dealership in terms of access to available options and upgrades, inspiring the same results. Dynamic features, such as doors opening/closing, add to the experience, making it more compelling to see the car in motion rather than viewing a static model. 

The consistency of a truly omnichannel approach can be a differentiator for the OEM. By using a single 3D asset for a VR experience, a digital configurator in a dealership and an online 3D configurator; the car-maker can create a more consistent and sustainable experience for the user who will see the same level of quality right across all touch points along its buying journey. 

Image Credit: Gargantiopa / Shutterstock

François de Bodinat, CMO ZeroLight, is experienced in product management, business development and startup venture, and holds a MS in computer engineering and an MBA from INSEAD.