Imagine this: you walk into a car dealership knowing exactly which car model you want, but not exactly the package and options you’d like to add to your eventual purchase. It’s not an uncommon problem, knowing the general, but not the specifics. Currently potential customers have to settle for 2-dimensional online “build this car” previews, request a catalog to thumb through, or visit the dealership in hopes of matching dreams with in-stock reality. Cadillac is envisioning answering the question, “Can I get that option with this package?” not with vague and generalized descriptions available today, but with virtual showrooms of tomorrow presenting buyers the ability to build, customize, and view their car in detailed 3-dimensions.
It was at the opening of the Letters To Andy Warhol exhibition at the Cadillac House Munich last month where a small group of guests – including Design Milk – were invited to preview the luxury American automaker’s vision of the auto purchasing experience: Cadillac VR.
Cadillac endeavors to usher in an entirely different experience that doesn’t rely upon vehicle stock on hand – or even dealership location, for that matter. Available models, finishes, and options are to be explored anywhere utilizing specially programmed HTC Vive virtual reality headsets in lieu (or at least in supplement) of physical location or inventory. With a headset on and controller in hand, customers will soon be invited to peruse and pick any vehicle from the Cadillac line up inside a virtual architectural showroom, then dive into the entire list of customization options to add and inspect instantly. Once completed, the VR technology permits a detailed walk/fly/zoom around the vehicle, inside and out (this even includes the ability to compare finishes and colors at different times of the day).
Cadillac reps made it clear that although the Cadillac VR system has progressed for demonstration purposes, there were still plenty of opportunities to fine tune the experience before customers (and equipped dealerships) are able to get their hands on the VR units. A “coming soon” beta.
We spoke with Lesley Ma, Cadillac Global CIO, to elaborate further on Cadillac’s plans to integrate the emerging technology of virtual reality into the car purchasing experience:
Design Milk: What exactly should someone walking through the doors of a Cadillac VR equipped dealership expect?
A customer will be greeted with the entire Cadillac 2017 vehicle line-up, including all models, trims, and options available in the US market. The Cadillac in Virtual Reality experience will continue to evolve, with new products being added to the visualizer as they are launched in the coming years.
DM: Beyond car building, will the Cadillac VR system offer any other unique experiences that a traditionally outfitted showroom cannot?
Cadillac builds exciting concept vehicles for our special motor shows and other events. Customers around the globe rarely have an opportunity to see one of these rare vehicles in person. This includes Cadillac racing vehicles. Leveraging the power of VR, we will bring that 3D visualization experience to those who visit our showrooms or events.
DM: Which VR hardware is being used in these virtual showrooms?
The “Visualizer” was built using the Unity development platform for HTC’s Vive headset. The Vive currently represents the highest fidelity image available. Our creative developer/production partner was a firm called ATM (All Things Media). In the future, a simplified version of the work will be available for other platforms, including mobile, tablets, etc.
DM: VR is still an emerging and quickly evolving technology…any concerns about obsolescence?
As technology innovations evolve with better head-mounted gear and user interfaces, we’ll upgrade accordingly, allowing customers to interact and immerse themselves more effortlessly in the full range of our vehicles and be able to enjoy looking at the details of our precision craftsmanship and engineering.
DM: The average customer comes into a dealership to physically inspect before purchasing…literally and figuratively kicking the tires, so to speak. How immersive of an experience should customers expect using the VR headset? Is every compartment, door, and window accessible virtually as they are in real life?
Customers will be able to inspect all trims and options (including wheels, lights, interior colors and materials) available in the US market today. With each new release, we will build more animations and interactions to improve the full visualization experience.
The goal is to present the Cadillac vehicles in an elegant setting encapsulating the brand values. The sleek digital space was designed by the Architectural firm Gensler, who designed Cadillac HQ and Cadillac House. The view out the windows is NYC as seen from our Global headquarters.
DM: Virtual reality is currently still solely a visual experience, but a car is the sum of all our senses. Will Cadillac dealerships have a selection of support material option samples on hand for customers to supplement their VR experience?
Cadillac dealerships do, and will likely continue to have, material option samples on display in their showrooms.
This is in no way meant to replace a dealership or showroom experience, but rather it is a modern way to view, explore and engage with the vehicles, and the brand. All new build dealerships have a mandated footprint and planning to include VR.
DM: What would you say was the biggest challenge for the VR development team while designing a newly imagined inspection process in relation and comparison to the traditional car purchasing experience?
The shopping journey of customers is changing rapidly across all industries. The automotive consumer is doing online research and very often making a purchase decision before even stepping into a physical showroom. At Cadillac, we are investing in our digital tools to help guide and inform consumers in a way that can immerse them in our products. We believe that whether the consumer is early or late in the shopping journey, we need to focus a positive digital experience coupled with a superior showroom experience.
Although VR is a technology known well in the gaming industry, applying it in other industries as a consumer tool is fairly new. Our biggest technical challenge was to achieve the level of image fidelity that would best showcase our product, and we continue to explore technical solutions that will evolve these efforts.