Audi dealers looking into a virtual reality future

We see how Audi is rolling out virtual reality software to rejuvenate the dealership experience and train its staff

Audi, like most brands, knows that the impact of a traditional car dealership has lessened in recent years. Thanks to the internet and the vast array of opinion and information car buyers are able to access through it, punters arriving at a showroom are often just as well-informed as the salespeople. If they arrive at the showroom at all.   

"Nowadays, customers only come to our dealers to talk about price" an Audi R&D manager bluntly told us. "But we're looking to change that". And the answer, according to Audi, lies in virtual reality.

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The German brand is now using the latest generation of the immersive graphic experience software to benefit both customers and sales managers in its dealer locations. We were given a brief tour showing the latest tech that is set to roll out to Audi's centres across the world.

Audi Virtual Training Car

One of the ways Audi is helping its sales managers explain the vast array of driver assistant gadgetry now fitted to its cars is with this: the 'Virtual Training Car'. Essentially, it's an A4 saloon with a boot crammed full of electronic wizardy, a virtual reality headset hardwired into the car's brain and some trick graphics software. 

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We were given a brief demonstration of how the Virtual Training Car can help Audi employees experience and the tech first-hand so, as retail research and development head Martin Schultz Beerhorst put it, they can "explain the systems from the heart and not just from a piece of paper".

Climbing into the driver's seat and sliding the VR headset over my face, things start to get a bit bizarre as the A4's interior is immaculately recreated in a computer-generated (but very real-feeling) world. Through the headset the car appears to be parked in a typical German high street, although it's actually just on a piece of flat, empty tarmac outside Munich airport. 

I'm instructed to drive off wearing the headset, negotiate a slalom course of cones down the virtual high street and turn around a virtual roundabout. After i speed up to 25mph, which is more than fast enough when you can't actually see where you're going in the real world, the A4's hazard recognition system picks up a virtual cyclist weaving into the road.

While that distracts my attention, a virtual pedestrian with a pram runs into the road in front of me. Audi's 'pre-sense' post-collision tech has already noticed that, primed the braking system and vibrated the middle pedal to make me notice as well. As I react with my own foot, the car comes to an abrupt halt.  

While it may seem like a bit of a game, Audi's engineers tell us the experience is real enough to shock a number of salespeople who have tried it out. The brand claims it is the first to do this, and over 5,000 staff have tried it out at its Munich centre. The hope is that the system can eventually showcase every type of driver assist system, and potential customers as well as staff can experience it first-hand.

Virtual Engineering Terminal

Audi is also committed to improving the tech experience inside the dealership itself. One way it is doing this is with the Virtual Engineering Terminal - a screen-based module that demonstrates several of its vehicle features.

Only three of these systems are in existence so far, with each costing over £30,000, but the plan is to roll them out across a number of dealers worldwide. A horizontal 1.4m touchscreen is mated to a 65-inch monitor, with data being fed from computer and cameras detecting the movements of model cars on the touchscreen surface.

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The system can realistically showcase, either from a bird's eye view or a cockpit view, how features such as Matrix LED lighting, traffic-jam assist and park assist operate. The brand will also push forward with offering virtual reality systems to aid the car configuration process, with stunningly realistic recreations of customer cars that people can virtually sit in and walk around. 

Do you like the idea of virtual reality tech rolling out into car dealerships? Share your thoughts in the comments...

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