You’re on the hip Left Bank of Paris’s Seine River. It’s a sunny, breezy spring morning and you’re staring into the engine bay of your brand new, Ara Blue Audi R8 V10 Plus. As you move around the side of the car, you can’t help but wonder if you shouldn’t have got that split side blade in Matt Titanium Grey instead of Mythos Black.
Wonder no more. A wave of your hand and the side blades are re-rendered in the Titanium. Much better, now let’s go the whole hog and add 20” 10-spoke Y design alloys too, but hang on, do they clash if we get them in gloss anthracite…?
Soon, this fantastical world of kid-in-a-sweet shop car configuration will be available in a select handful of Audi brand stores. 3D Virtual Reality the very latest way to allow the company’s customers to configure their cars, thanks to HTC’s Vive VR headset.
Having already teemed up with Oculus in some stores to allow a first gen VR configurator, Audi’s now getting together with HTC and using the Vive for its next step on in the world of virtual configurators.
But why? Audi currently has – if you include variants – something like 52 models for sale. More car customers are shopping online. Big, out of town dealers aren’t places people love visiting – even if they’re architectural shrines to steel and glass, and serve decent coffee as Audi dealers tend to be. City centre brand stores are the way forward. The chances of a dealer having the car you’re shopping for in stock is actually decreasing. So how do you serve someone who walks in – and has decided online that, yes, they’d very much like to spend £119k on a new R8 – but needs to see if they like it better in Grey or Orange before ordering. Or can’t decide if they want a red or stone coloured interior. And just what those carbon trim options might do to change the cabin ambience. And whether it’s worth spending £1750 on the Bang and Olufsen sound system?
VR is opening up opportunities for Audi to help the customer decide on these things, without needing to keep literally hundreds of thousands of pounds of cars in stock. Today, even if they kept one of every model at each dealer, they could never hope to showcase the myriad of options modern premium cars offer – and which form such a critical part of the shopping experience for many customers.
With the Vive system, Audi can allow the customer to view the car just about anywhere. We checked out a Red R8 on the moon – which was a little surreal, but ultimately quite cool. The rendering engine and power of the technology now means the car looks absolutely realistic – shadows, light, pressing of the metal all crisply rendered. And when you move your head to look around, no jerkiness. You can even crouch down and look right into the jewel like detail of the headlights.
A swipe of the iPad screen that your Audi assistant will be carrying, and his hand to guide you to sit down onto the bench, and you’ll be transported from outside the car to being sat in the driver’s seat – able to look around the interior and even lean in to get a closer view of details, materials, trim finishers.
Back to that Paris street, and the coolest part of the entire demo. Open the rear engine bay cover, and lean over to peer into the engine. As your nose approaches the virtual cam cover, the VR image changes from fully rendered, to holographic orange. Continue to dip your head and you’re now descending through a holographic engine. A valve, into the engine’s cylinders and a full inside tour of the internals of that utterly magnificent, high-revving V10.
The experience alone feels like a premium, special one. But it’s not just going to be for those who can afford an R8. You’ll be able to walk into an Audi brand store some day soon, and configure an A1 too. And Audi will hope that, by showing you just what those options look like and how they feel, providing a 3D VR car configurator experience, will drive customers to spend more on options. A better experience for you, a more profitable one for Audi.