A New Reality for the Auto Industry

January 18, 2017

Imagine a man flipping through the pages of a car magazine during his afternoon break.

Usually, he flips straight past the ads, but this time he sees one that catches his attention. It features a birdseye photograph of cars parallel-parked on the side of the street – a dotted rectangle with a QR code taking up the empty parking space in the center. A sentence at the bottom beckons the man to place his phone on the rectangle to watch the ad come to life.

The man complies, and sure enough, a video of the advertised car appears on his phone to demonstrate a new park-assist feature. The vehicle swiftly shifts itself into the parking spot, and the advertisement is now complete.

If you think this sounds like an ad of the future, you’d be surprised to know that augmented reality (AR) marketing has been happening for years by several automakers – the ad described above was part of a Ford Explorer campaign.

More recently, dealers took advantage of the craze surrounding Pokemon Go – an augmented reality app based on the hit children’s franchise – as a means to drive traffic to the dealership and turn ice-cold leads into bonafide sales.

As shifting business landscapes and evolving consumer preferences have pushed automakers to more rapidly embrace new technologies, AR has been an innovative force within the industry. Aside from advertising, here are three more areas of automotive where augmented reality is picking up steam.

Designing Cars with AR

When it comes to innovative technology in the automotive industry, most of the publicity goes to autonomous vehicles and connected cars. But augmented reality is becoming more widely used in the design of new vehicles.

Volkswagen uses spatial AR to project virtual data onto physical vehicle design models, allowing real-time component analysis. This means designs can be accepted or rejected without having to produce a physical prototype, saving time and costs required for product development.

In March, Toyota patented its augmented-reality windshield. The technology combines front-facing and driver-facing cameras to display and adjust information in real-time – such as directions, incoming calls, and lane positioning – in order to keep drivers from looking down. With their ‘Window to the World’, Toyota’s AR would also allow passengers to draw doodles on the window and attach them to real-world objects outside, as well as use a touchscreen to zoom in on scenery outside of the car.

While this type of technology is still in development with a number of automakers, it is indicative of what we can expect from AR-equipped vehicles in the future.

 Selling Cars with AR

The way people buy cars has changed, and as a result, traditional dealership showrooms are no longer the powerhouse they once were – research from Mckinsey shows that the average number of showroom visits customers make before purchase dropped from five to just one. As a result, dealers are introducing augmented reality in their showrooms in an effort to stake greater influence on consumer purchase decisions and increase time spent at the dealership.

In February, Fiat Chrysler debuted a new car sales app that lets customers modify features in a car before they purchase it using augmented reality. Customers can open doors, rev the engine and customize the interior/exterior of the vehicle – tapping the screen to change things like upholstery colors, engine size or dashboard configurations.

Ferrari’s AR sales app takes a similar approach by allowing customers to point the smartphone camera at various areas of a car on the showroom floor and customizing it on the screen in real-time.

This trend towards AR apps in automotive sales is one that will likely explode in the coming years, due to its ease of use, efficiency, and transparency of customization. Virtual reality – the big brother to augmented reality – is also being used by dealers as an innovative way to test drive vehicles.

 Servicing Cars with AR

If you’ve ever had to pore through the pages of your owner’s manual, then you know how tedious and unintuitive it can be. That’s beginning to change with the introduction of augmented reality owner’s manuals from automakers like Hyundai.

When you launch the app, you simply point your camera at various areas of the vehicle to receive 2D/3D overlays identifying what goes where. With the tap of a button, you can receive illustrated step-by-step tutorials to get you through various maintenance items related to a specific part.

On the professional side, BMW service engineers wear augmented reality head mounts while working on cars that identify the problem area, project instructions on how to proceed and advise on what tools to use. This gives mechanics all the information they need at their disposal, exactly where they need it.

With so much research and development happening with augmented reality in the automotive industry, it’s only a matter of time before this revolutionary technology is commonplace in every stage of the vehicle lifecycle.

Car dealers should explore ways to involve augmented reality in their dealerships – whether through tools that help boost efficiency in their service department, or apps that allow customers to quickly customize their dream vehicle as an added incentive to get them in the door.

This technology will only get better and more popular as time goes on, so getting in on the ground floor could give your dealership a competitive leg-up.