Nothing beats taking an actual car for an actual drive, but virtual reality can whet buyer appetites for the real thing and can also offer customers an opportunity to see a broader variety of cars than can physically fit in a showroom.
The automotiveÂ sector isÂ notable in being an early mover when it comes to virtual reality, Endri Tolka, COO and co-founder of YouVisit, told Hypergrid Business.
â€œBrands like BMW, Audi, Porsche, KIA, Volkswagen, Lexus, Chevrolet, and Honda have all incorporated virtual reality and augmented reality experiences into their marketing strategy,â€ he said.
And this summer, Cadillac, General Motor’s luxury car brand, will begin adding virtual showrooms to more than 400Â of its smaller US dealerships, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.
â€œShoppers would be able to quickly configure and envision multiple models with different colors and interior choices,â€ Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen said in a statement.
TheÂ dealerships will still have someÂ vehicles on site for customers to drive, but the move will help the car maker do away with the need to maintain a large stock of vehicles at its showroomsÂ while still allowing customers to preview a wide variety of options.Â NewÂ virtual showroomsÂ may also be opened inÂ shopping malls, conferencesÂ other locations.
You can get a quick preview of what a Cadillac feels like from the inside in the 360-degree video below.
Other car companies are moving beyond the dealership and offering virtual reality experiences directly to consumers online.
Renault has also released a 360-degree video, withÂ Renaultsport Clio Cup UK cars.
And, last month, several car manufacturers showed off virtual experiences at theÂ International Automotive Exhibition in Beijing, reported the China Daily newspaper.
Other VR experts, however, say virtual test drives still have a ways to go.
â€œWith cars, you want to feel the quality of the construction as well as get a sense of the ergonomics and visibilityÂ â€” virtual reality cannot offer either of these,â€ said David Burden, managing director of UK-based Daden, which specializes in creating immersive learning and visualization systems.
It will take a while before cars and other big-ticketÂ items, such as appliances, are routinely tried out by customers in virtual reality, he told Hypergrid Business.
â€œUsers may be able to see a VR version of some white goods before they buy but the ease of doing that will need to be quite high for users to take advantage of that,â€ he said.
But, eventually, virtual try-outsÂ might even lead to virtual buying.
â€œOnce you can get a good enough experience, people might start buying online, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it would take at least a decade before it might become mainstream,” Tom Janssens, founder of Arealities.com, told Hypergrid Business. Arealities is a Belgium-based constancy focusing on virtual reality sales and marketing.
Janssens added that construction and travel are two other industriesÂ that are likely to leverage virtual reality technology in a big way in the near future.
Meanwhile, another automotive use of virtual reality is to testÂ self-driving cars, as in the Ford video below.