VR – a game-changer for automotive insight and the vehicle development cycle?

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are starting to impact on the way in which car manufacturers are marketing new models to consumers – as well as offering exciting new opportunities for designing and testing model concepts as part of the vehicle development process. But what will this mean for how insight is incorporated into the development cycle?

Since Facebook’s $2bn acquisition of VR headset manufacturer Oculus Rift in March last year, more and more industries have been looking to leverage the benefits of the creation of virtual worlds and the blending of virtual worlds with real life.

Car manufacturers have been quick off the mark to explore the marketing uses of this technology: in October last year, Lotus offered virtual test drives of its 2015 RC F using Oculus Rift, and a few months later Fiat offered roadshow visitors Oculus Rift headsets to ‘sit’ in a VR version of the brand’s new 500X car controlled by magician Dynamo. Fiat also used Google’s mobile VR service, Google Cardboard, to let app users view the film on their smartphone.

Similarly, in January this year, Ford used an AR app to market its new Ford Mustang. The Virtual Ford Mustang app let users see a full-size image of the car and interact with it in a number of different ways, including triggering engine noises and customising its specifications.

Land Rover has been the latest carmaker to explore the use of augmented reality in the showroom – prior to the launch of the new Discovery Sport, showroom visitors were treated to a full-scale digital reconstruction of the vehicle via AR headsets.

Land Rover marketing director Laura Schwab talked to Marketing Week about this exciting marketing experiment earlier this month “[This] could mean augmented reality slowly replaces showrooms to an extent as people can look at all the features of a car ahead of a purchase from their homes via smartphone and virtual reality headsets.”

Excitingly, it’s not just for marketing purposes that car manufacturers are making the most of VR and AR. Ford designers have recently started to use VR headsets in the very early stage of vehicle development to test and iterate the interior and exterior design of new models.

This could have profound implications for the way in which consumer insight is fed into the product development cycle in the future to test and iterate new models. Imagine being able to test and refine a design with consumers on an on-going basis – and being able to do away with clumsy clay models that require transporting across the globe to car clinics? Being able to iterate a model’s design in this way could vastly increase the speed with which models are developed and tested – and could lower risk by allowing manufacturers to focus budget on developing test-models only once a virtual one has been tested and refined.

FreshMinds has been pioneering the use of digital technologies to engage with consumers and assist with iterative product development  for a number of years – our automotive team certainly can’t wait to get their hands on this technology to take this to another new level! To find out more about our work in this area, get in touch.