As digital advancements transform the driving experience, they are also fundamentally changing how society engages with the vehicle in the retail environment, writes, Trevor Hill - Head of Audi South Africa.
Automotive brands find themselves at a fascinating watershed in society’s evolution.
As is typical of periods of dramatic change, this presents many opportunities and new innovations in the way brands communicate and engage with their customers.
Vehicle manufacturers have had to innovate in developing more integrated mobility solutions and invest heavily in technology and innovation across the entire automotive value chain. These new innovations form part of the digital revolution within the automotive industry.
As a global, premium and innovative automotive brand, Audi‘s digitilisation journey can be found in many areas of the business. The application of artificial intelligence opens up a new dimension of performance for both the product and the entire value chain. As a digital car company, Audi is digitising all processes at the company: from product development with virtual reality; creating a factory enivornment with intelligent robots and to retail showrooms with the latest digital technology.
Since 2003, Audi has been using virtually created 3D models as a firm element of its vehicle development process. The company is now also testing a so-called virtual reality holodeck so that the design of new automobile models can be virtually assessed at an early stage. With the VR holodeck, a realistic impression of the proportions of future Audi models is obtained and allows employees from development and production to virtually assess the structure of a vehicle before it goes into production.
Additional areas in which virtual-reality technologies are already applied at Audi include virtual training for employees in packing logistics and the Audi VR experience for customer advice. The latter allows potential customers to virtually configure their desired car and to experience all optional equipment in a realistic way.
These digital advancements have presented an exciting time for automotive companies who are prepared to rise to the challenge within the retail environment.
The process of purchasing a car, for instance, needs to be completely re-evaluated. The old ways of driving out to a showroom on the edge of town to ask a Dealer for his advice are numbered. Today, thanks to the internet, we can all educate ourselves about our options, our price range and our preferences before we even set foot into a Dealer showroom. The average customer is quite knowledgeable by the time he or she meets a sales person for the first time.
The role of company staff has thus changed from being providers of information, to being brand experience custodians.
At Audi, we know that when customers come to us, they already have some experience of our brand. Now they’re looking for a heightened level of engagement with us. They want to feel and live the brand. We learned some years ago that this can mean a lot more than going for a test drive around the block. An example of this is the Audi City showrooms or the Audi Customer Private Lounge concept.
These showrooms, currently in London, Beijing, Berlin, Paris, Moscow and Istanbul, are interactive experiences that reinvent how a customer goes about buying a car. The virtual, digital nature of these showrooms means that they can be located in the heart of central business districts, where space is at a premium, and can recreate every one of the hundreds of millions of design combinations which Audi offers, as the client customises the car of his or her choice.
Floor-to-ceiling screens – called powerwalls – produce an immersive experience as the customer creates the Audi of their dreams in photo-real detail, selecting the model variant and every specific detail with the assistance of an Audi professional. Whether you want an Audi A5 with Java Brown paintwork, leather upholstery and red stitching, or a Vegas Yellow Audi Q2 with stylish wheels, you can create your dream vehicle on a tablet device, and then see it projected before your eyes.
Test drives can be arranged for a later date, but the power of the virtual brand experience is such, that a significant percentage of customers already choose to purchase their Audis without ever having driven a test vehicle!
At the Berlin showroom, we find that customers spend on average of 25% more on their purchases of Audi cars, as the showroom brings their custom specifications to life. The digital showroom concept has already been integrated into many of the Dealerships worldwide.
The idea is to move towards seamlessly integrated automotive shopping, buying and owning – across whichever channel the customer prefers. This all serves to enhance the brand experience, which has now been effectively separated or used to support the physical brick-and-mortar terminal.
The traditional Audi Dealership will also evolve and expand on as the brand prepares itself for the introduction of fully electric vehicles under the Audi e-tron umbrella. Dealerships would need to accomodate for charging station infrastruture and the subsequent storage facilities for the vehicles.
The rise of the sharing economy has seen an increase in ride-hailing and car-sharing services, which means - among other things - that fewer customers are feeling the need to own a car. Automotive manufacturers like Audi are also looking beyond traditional ownership models, and investing in “shared mobility” alternatives, what we term as Audi On Demand. In the future, the success of our companies will be measured in “kilometres travelled” as opposed to “vehicles sold”.
The digital revolution is tangible at Audi. For us, Vorsprung goes far beyond the car. With everything we do, we want to make our customers’ lives easier. We give them time, connect them with their environment, and offer them sustainable solutions and unique experiences.