As a luxury brand, Audi views the showroom sales experience as a point of contact with its consumers and a chance to start building brand loyalty.
So to get customers back in the showroom, the brand has crafted a VR experience it believes is unique and will show off its vehicles in a personalised and engaging manner.
"It’s not just about showing our cars in a very realistic way. It’s about the experience. Our goal is to have them leave and say, ‘Wow, that was a great two hours!’ and with VR tech that’s possible," Marcus Kühne, strategy lead immersive technologies at Audi, said.
The experience, crafted with agency, Zerolight, not only has Audi’s cars in its system but also allows consumers to see how different customisable options look on their cars before they make the purchase.
"There are hundreds of millions of potential configurations, and this is the only way consumers could view any option they desire," he said.
Smaller dealerships are also often unable to stock more than five or so cars in the showroom but with VR all of Audi’s catalogue becomes available.
"The experience can also be tailored to the individual consumer," Kühne said. "You can select the surroundings, from France to the moon, let them have a 100-second pit stop experience at Le Mans, or view a car that’s only available in Germany."
Building the experience
Creating the experience has been a four-and-a-half year journey for Audi.
"We have immense amounts of car data, which is great because it's very precise, but it’s also enormously complex and our main challenge was to have the experience run smoothly on the regular PCs our dealerships are likely to be able to afford," Kühne said.
This is where Audi turned to Zerolight. "We investigated all existing game engines on the market. None performed well-enough to show the cars as we wanted; we found Zerolight worked better and faster so we thought, well let’s start with these guys," Kühne said.
The project was so close to Audi’s heart that it worked very closely with Zerolight, instead of "defining what we need and handing it over to an agency as we usually do," Kühne explained.
"But if someone wants to buy a £90,000 car, we have to show it very realistically.
Zerolight invested lots of time and effort with us to ensure quality," he said.
The other challenge was to ensure the experience worked well on even the older versions of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. "We’ve been working closely with both companies as well through this process," Kühne said.
Promoting the experience
Audi has no plans to make a major announcement around the experience. "We’re leaving it up to the dealerships to promote it. We don’t have a main strategy," Moritz Drechsel, spokesman sales and marketing at Audi, said.
However, many dealerships are already keen to show the experience at event and Audi is working to help them with this.
"Audi dealerships are independent franchise. But as a group we are promoting the tech and implementation at dealerships at motorshows and events such as the Consumer Electronics Show," Drechsel said.