The average person may still think of VR primarily as the framing device for sci-fi movies. More often, they may recognize VR as a new and developing medium for video gaming. But VR can be—and already is—much more.
How VR technologies are changing manufacturing, staff training, and retail practices is going largely unreported, unexplored, and unappreciated by both decision-makers and consumers in the industries that could most benefit from virtual reality. Even now, this includes the automotive industry. However, this cutting-edge technology is increasingly transforming the car business, from the drawing board to the dealership, as forward-thinking companies deploy VR in practical and innovative ways.
1. VIRTUAL CAR CLINICS IMPROVE DATA RELIABILITY AND ROI
Consumer preferences are diverse, but the one unifying element is that tastes change over time. To keep the latest models competitive, manufacturers routinely conduct car clinics—events that present consumers with existing models, and solicit their opinions about them. This gives manufacturers an idea of what customers like, what they dislike, and what they would like to see in future models. The results inform marketing, and the feedback is taken into account when developing new designs.
While valuable, conventional car clinics face a number of barriers that limit usefulness. The cost of moving vehicles, transporting staff, and securing an appropriate venue all add up. As a result, the expense of conventional car clinics limits the number of clinics held and the number of markets in which they take place.
Virtual car clinics do not have these limitations. Using virtual assets viewed through VR headsets, these clinics can allow consumers to interact and engage with a wide selection of cars without the need for vehicles to be physically present. In fact, with virtual car clinics, consumers can interact with more car models than could ever be assembled in a single location for a price that is much lower than even assembling a small number of real vehicles. Significantly, these clinics require minimal staffing and can be conducted in a much larger variety of spaces, including those most convenient for participants. As a result, more clinics can be held in more locations, resulting in more reliable data and greatly enhancing the value of market research.
2. VIRTUAL DESIGN CREATES BETTER DESIGNS MORE QUICKLY
Cars are complicated assemblages of thousands of moving parts. Creating them requires multiple rounds of design, prototyping, and testing before the first plans for parts can even be sent to machinists for fabrication. Unfortunately, poor design decisions often only show up when they’re visible on true to scale models. Creating these models is time-consuming, as is having to recreate them to revert to a previous iteration or change a design element.
The same isn’t true of virtual prototypes. Three-dimensional, true-to-scale models can be viewed and interacted with through VR headsets simply by loading CAD files. Modifying them or reverting to a previous version is as simple as loading a saved copy. Additionally, virtualization means that engineering and design teams can collaborate across continents and modify models in real time. As a result, deploying VR technology in automotive industry design minimizes time, labor, and material cost, as well as provides the means to create fully-featured designs with unprecedented speed.
3. VR ENHANCES MANUFACTURING AND MAINTENANCE TRAINING
Vehicle maintenance and manufacturing are skilled trades, and traditionally there have been few ways to learn it except by doing it over and over. After classroom training, mechanics and manufacturing workers typically work under the supervision of more experienced employees to develop the practical experience needed to do quality work. Despite supervision, the risk of error amongst new workers is high, potentially compromising vehicles, worker safety, and profitability.
Virtual reality automotive training can help change that. With VR, maintenance and manufacturing personnel participate in theoretical training in an immersive three-dimensional environment. This gives them a better feel for the assembly structure of vehicles and enhances their understanding of industry practices. Increased immersion in the theoretical portion of training can help reduce the likelihood of mistakes on the shop floor or assembly line.
Additionally, one of the more intriguing uses of VR technology in the automotive industry is not just using VR for designing cars or training workers in isolation, but combining the two elements to design both a vehicle and the way it is made at the same time. An assembly worker can begin assembling a vehicle in a virtual environment while designers and engineers watch. Time-consuming or difficult positions in the assembly process can be spotted in advance, and solutions can be developed before weaknesses affect mass production. These efficiencies can produce significant cost savings and maximize profits. Just as importantly, this strategy can improve the ergonomics of the assembly line and help prevent employee injury.
4. VIRTUAL REALITY SALES TRAINING CAN TRANSFORM THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
One of the most significant benefits of virtual reality automotive training is the potential to enhance automotive sales. Modern cars offer a multitude of features and options for safety, performance, environmental friendliness, navigation, and entertainment. Even for the most seasoned salespeople, it can be overwhelming to keep these options straight across different models and trim levels. Virtual reality sales training can help sales staff better understand what each model offers and which options are available at each price point.
VR sales training can also be used to better train staff on how to interact with customers. More experienced sales personnel can walk them through the sales process with virtual models, grade their performance, highlight and correct errors, and provide general guidance on how to provide a higher level of customer service. This is particularly important at a time when information and commerce are moving online, resulting in more sophisticated car shoppers and limiting opportunities to inject a personal touch in the sales process. Knowledgeable sales staff who can give captivating sales presentations and comfortably walk customers through the sales process can help not only make sales in the short term, but establish long-term relationships.
5. VR TECHNOLOGY BRINGS THE SALES FLOOR GLOBAL
Perhaps the most exciting benefit of VR technology is the ability to reach an audience that is potentially global in scale. The advent of online shopping has made customers adverse to brick and mortar stores and, often, sales staff in general. As a result, car shoppers are spending an ever-increasing amount of time online—and some even want the shopping experience to happen entirely online.
Automotive virtual reality allows dealerships to provide a fully immersive sales experience in a car shopper’s home. Using a VR headset, customers can take a virtual walkaround, experience the view from the driver’s seat, and take their time exploring all the interior and exterior features of a vehicle. As a result, VR is a powerful tool that lets dealers reach potential customers wherever they are. Additionally, VR sales technology can also be used in the showroom to provide customers with access to all of the vehicles a dealer has in inventory or can order, which means dealers are no longer limited to what’s on their lot.
With VR, dealers will benefit from being able to connect to more customers than ever before in compelling ways. Virtual sales platforms also have the benefit of working around the clock without the active involvement of sales staff. Taken together, these benefits can translate into a hefty return on investment.
VR TECHNOLOGY IN THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY HAS LIMITLESS POTENTIAL
A few years ago, virtual reality was mostly an entertainment novelty that few took seriously. Today, VR technology in the automotive industry has found a diverse and potentially revolutionary range of applications. It isn’t an overstatement to say that deployment of virtual reality has the potential to transform the automotive industry the same way the computer-aided design (CAD) did in the late twentieth century. In fact, the effect is likely to be greater.
Manufacturers and dealerships have an opportunity to increase growth and capture a larger portion of the automotive market by integrating virtual reality into everyday practices. However, they may run into difficulty building libraries of VR assets. Car manufacturers will have VR models and assets of their own models, but probably not those of their competition. Dealerships probably will typically not have the expertise or resources to create all VR assets at all. But by partnering with the most complete automotive stock image library, both manufacturers and dealerships have access to the assets they need to fully harness the potential of virtual reality.