Audi's digital showroom is the ultimate car buying experience
3rd Dec 2012 | 15:30
Audi City's touchscreens and all-round interactivity make conventional car dealers seem so last century
Cars are touchy-feely, physical things, right? The noise of an engine, the texture of leather, the ergonomics of an interior.
Perhaps, but we've just experienced the world's first digital car dealership courtesy of Audi and it pretty much blows apart your assumptions about what's important when buying a car.
The dealership is located in the heart of London on Piccadilly. Situated on the site of what was previously Mayfair Audi, it's not an obvious place to put a normal car dealership.
The traffic's awful. Space is tight. But a digital dealership? That's very different. The core setup involves two floors.
On the top floor, there's space for a trio of display cars. Audi rotates the models every 10 days or so, though the glacier white R8 currently situated up front is doing such a good job of drawing crowds it will stick around a little longer.
But forget the cars (yes, really). It's the quartet of large touch-displays and accompanying multi-panel display wall that matter.
The touch displays are roughly 40 inches in diagonal and each one is linked to a multi-panel display wall. The interface on the touch display is a little like the online car configurators most brands now offer.
But it's slicker, faster, more interactive. You can configure any current Audi and have access to the full range of options. That makes for millions of final configurations (Audi says the grand total is no fewer than 120 million configurations from some 40-odd models) such is the breadth of materials, colours and technologies on offer these days.
It's quick and fun. But then it gets better. As you go along, at any stage you can fling your Audi-in-development onto the display wall, gesture stylee, giving you a near life-sized view of your personal configuration.
Once it's up there, you can manipulate, change the viewing angle and so on, using the touch display. Both exterior and interior views are on offer. Check out the video below to see just how the system works.
What's more, the wall display also has Microsoft Kinect motion sensors built in. Unfortunately, customer research found that many people are embarrassed to stand in front of the display and use hand gestures. So, functionality is currently limited. But it's in there waiting to be switched back on as soon as Joe Public can cope with it.
Upstairs, there's also a table with tactile and visual samples of various paint and and material finishes. Once you have your ideal configuration, you can print it out, complete with a code that's compatible with the online configurator. Simply head to audi.co.uk and plug it in.
Downstairs is where things get really serious. Because this is also a fully fledged dealership. You can order, negotiate a discount, pay for and collect your Audi from this mainly digital dealership. And yes, you can arrange test drives, too.
Meeting rooms, again with the touch and wall displays, allow you to finalise things and do deals with a little more privacy/ There's also a more open plan area designed to allow families with children to enjoy the process with a little more flexibility.
What's interesting is just how well it works. For starters, it's a brilliant way to get a feel for your perfect Audi. With so many options on offer, you're lucky if there's a model in the right colour in a normal showroom, much less one with the precise set of options you fancy.
There's also something much more relaxing and inviting about the digital experience. Normal car showrooms can be austere, intimidating places. Perhaps it's the increased level of interactivity, the fact that the buyer feels in control rather than at the mercy of a salesman.
Whatever, it's a really interesting new take on car buying. Audi definitely has a march on the competition here. And so the sales figures apparently prove. Since it opened this summer, sales are up 60 per cent on Mayfair Audi as it was over the same period last year.
If you're thinking about buying an Audi or you just like cars and tech, we suggest you drop by. Every other car showroom feels so last century by comparison.