The average car has around 30,000 parts. Every one of those parts needs to be designed and engineered to hold up to different forces and loads, forged from different base materials, carefully machined to the needed dimensions, and assembled into components. These components are then shipped to a car manufacturer’s factory where they are assembled into a complete automobile. The effort stretches around the globe.
Every last bit of that effort begins with automotive market research. This research tells manufacturers what the public is looking for and what designs are likely to sell, giving designers and engineers data-based goals to work toward. In short, it sparks a process with effects felt across the industry. Now, new technologies are helping to refine automotive market research and make this research more cost-effective than ever before.
THE FOCUS GROUP METHOD
At the most basic level, automotive market research is simply asking consumers what they think about vehicle makes and models. There are several ways of going about this. Marketing researchers can use high-quality still images to conduct focus groups in which participants give their opinion on a car’s features, exterior, and interior styling based on images. This provides invaluable information about the features of existing or proposed designs that appeal to customers and better identify those that don’t.
However, the scope of this methodology is limited. Because participants don’t interact with a vehicle in real life, their opinions may not accurately reflect the experience of seeing the car in person. When working only with images, it can be hard to develop a good sense of a vehicle’s size, the aesthetic and practical implications of its features, and how it all comes together to form a whole. These limits can compromise the research results. To counteract this, automotive market research companies can partner with a trusted stock library specializing in high-quality car images to give viewers the best possible photo-viewing experience. However, there are also better ways to assess public opinion.
THE POSSIBILITIES AND CHALLENGES OF TRADITIONAL CAR CLINICS
To obtain more reliable data than is possible via photo-based focus groups, automotive market research firms often arrange car clinics. These are similar to focus groups, but with the vital difference of allowing participants to interact with real-life cars. This allows participants to form opinions based on their experience of each vehicle, leading to more meaningful data.
However, car clinics do have some drawbacks that prevent widespread use:
- Transportation: Moving vehicles from location to location can present logistical challenges and is no small expense.
- Staffing: Multiple staff members are needed to plan, organize, and implement car clinics—and they must do so at multiple locations. This can carry significant time and labor costs.
- Facilities: Car clinics require venues that can accommodate multiple vehicles and give consumers the ability to compare models. While this may take place in a dealer showroom, it often requires the use of a convention center or other large space. This can significantly add to expenses and even compromise viability.
The practical barriers and economic costs of car clinics limit deployability, often leading to small sample sizes and flawed data. This can lead to the entire global apparatus of car design and manufacturing working to bring a car to market based on low-quality research results. Today, however, technological advances are giving rise to new possibilities.
THE NEXT FRONTIER IN AUTOMOTIVE MARKET RESEARCH
Extended reality applications like VR and AR can help manufacturers overcome the challenges of traditional car clinics by making automotive market research more practical, cost-effective, and reliable.
In a virtual car clinic, participants interact with virtual vehicles in a fully virtual environment. With high-quality assets, this means experiencing true-to-scale vehicles in true-to-life colors. As a result, participants can develop a deeper understanding of each vehicle and provide more accurate feedback than is possible through still images alone. This leads to more dependable data that manufacturers can trust.
Additionally, virtual car clinics can be conducted anywhere without the need for costly transportation, staffing, and venues. This allows car clinics to be held in more markets than was previously possible, not only due to increased economic viability, but thanks to increased portability. Rather than requiring participants to come to an inconvenient clinic venue, clinics can be conducted where people already gather, such as shopping malls and community centers. As a result of these features, virtual car clinics are quickly becoming one of the best methods to conduct automotive market research and gain large, meaningful data sets.
DEVELOPING THE BEST VIRTUAL CAR CLINICS
To be effective, a virtual car clinic needs to use assets that offer a truly immersive experience and an accurate view of each vehicle—including vehicles from different manufacturers. By partnering with a specialized XR library of unparalleled depth, breadth, and quality, researchers can create powerful car clinics that fuel the future of automotive design, marketing, and sales.