The idea of virtual reality test driving of cars seems utterly ridiculous to me, but stick with me – I think there is something in it.
Ford today announced they are exploring how Virtual Reality (VR) technology could change the car buying experience.
Already in their high-end design centres, Ford is utilising VR as part of the design process. Allowing engineers to walk around their creations, see the integration of the inside and outside of the car in one smooth motion without the distractions of the real world.
But what on earth could it add to the “retail experience”.
I’m going to call BS on a “home test drive” because any car person knows that one car’s bumps and shudders are another one’s long and frustrating gear changes. These things could simply never be reflected in a VR experience.
So how could VR enable consumers and buyers?
Take a look at how the web has transformed the brochure. 20 years ago you’d go into a dealer, grab a brochure for a car and flick through it, to see the photos of the car, the interior styles and colour options.
Today, you logon to a car company website and can see those options placed directly onto your car, see every colour combination, interior and exterior, move the car around in 360 degrees to see it from every angle.
Why not take that same concept and bring it to the virtual world.
Imagine you download the Ford app to your VR machine (Smartphone or computer). Then with the goggles on you choose the car, you pick the colours, and you walk around it as if it were in front of you.
Then reach forward, open the door, move inside and sit down. You can look around the cabin – see the dash layout.
This “first impression” could be a big part of the buying decision, and the interior alone might eliminate several cars from your short list meaning more quality time spent at the dealers left to consider?
Jeffrey Nowak, global digital experience chief, Ford Motor Company is more than a touch excited “It really is a blank canvas. It is easy to imagine that someone who wants to buy an SUV could experience taking that car for a test drive over desert dunes without leaving the comfort of their home,”
“Likewise, if you’re in the market for a city car you could be at home, relaxing in your PJs and fit in trying out the peak-time school run after you’ve put the kids to bed.”
While this may be a distant idea for real consumers, VR is in place at Ford, including a new state-of-the-art facility called the Ford immersive Virtual Environment (FiVE) lab at Ford’s Asia Pacific Product Development Center in Melbourne, Australia where designers can more fully experience a vehicle without the need for a physical prototype to be developed.
The Australian facility adds to the VR environment in the United States, Germany, China, India, Brazil and Mexico.
“People decide within three minutes if they love a product or not, and it is the same for your car,” said Amko Leenarts, Ford’s head of global interior design operations. “From the moment you get in, you form connections with the smell, the feel of the surfaces, or the sound of the car door closing and it’s very powerful if we – as designers – can help create the perfect experience for the customer.”
Amko, great stuff – but good luck getting the smell and feel of the interior working in VR mate.