Volvo offers virtual-reality goggles to bring vehicle simulations into 3D. Many manufacturers have complex configurators that allow customers to virtually assemble their cars online or at a dealership as well as get a preview of what their final purchase will look like. — Volvo/dpa
The price list for the first-ever VW Golf was a simple leaflet. These days though, buyers interested in purchasing a Golf have to browse through a catalogue and price list as thick and heavy as an illustrated university textbook.
The same is true of the VW Polo, the Passat and so on – and the situation is no different at BMW, Mercedes or any other major carmaker.
"Choosing a car has never been as complicated as it is today," says Hans-Georg Marmit from a German vehicle inspection organisation. "The growing number of models, as well as body, engine and equipment choices, has not only made the selection much larger, but also more difficult than ever before."
To give their customers at least a partial overview, many manufacturers have complex configurators that allow customers to virtually assemble their cars online or at a dealership, as well as get a preview of what their final purchase will look like.
While some, like Volvo or Land Rover, continue to play with new technologies and even offer virtual-reality goggles to bring vehicle simulations into 3D, Mercedes has taken a closer look at the decision-making process, says marketing communications manager Natanael Sijanta, with a view to more of a lifestyle configurator.
Here, Mercedes has for the most part done away with engine choices, models and dimensions; instead, as if logging onto a dating website, customers can enter their preferences among 19 themes, from music to food, and will then be offered the ideal car partner – with the appropriate equipment packages included.
As a rule, the more expensive the car, the more complex the configurator. For example, Jaguar Land Rover recently set up a so-called Commissioning Suite for the Special Vehicles Operation at the company headquarters in the British city of Coventry.
There, according to CEO John Edwards, customers can enjoy Michelin-starred food and vintage Champagne while assembling their dream car. From the seam patterns on the leather upholstery to the woodgrain on the decorative consoles, everything can be immediately viewed on a screen the size of a table tennis table.
Meanwhile, anyone putting together a new Chiron model at Bugatti's headquarters in the German city of Molsheim will, according to spokeswoman Manuela Hoehne, not only view the car in actual size on a massive screen, but he or she will even be able to see images of the car in front of the driveway or garage back home.
However, there is growing pushback against such high-tech simulations. "Our model structures, and with them the purchasing processes, have become too complicated," says Klaus-Gerhard Wolpert, who is overseeing the development of the new Polo at Volkswagen.
Customers are losing their ability to maintain a broad overview, while the manufacturers are forced to develop, produce and maintain innumerable variants, often at a high cost, he argues.
When the new Polo arrives later this year, Wolpert wants to simplify the procedure: "Five mouse clicks should be enough to have configured and ordered your car," he says, envisioning a highly streamlined model structure.
Alain Visser, senior vice president of the new car brand Lynk & Co, isn't concerned about having a wide range of equipment and model variants. When he brings the Chinese SUV 01 to Europe at the end of the decade, Visser explains, there will be changing collections, like there are in the fashion sector, but not a wide model range with abundant choices.
At Ford, there is likewise little in the way of virtual-reality magic – at least not when it comes to the new GT. If you are lucky enough to get on the 1,000-strong waiting list for the super sports car, Ford will send you a luxury model kit that will let you piece together exactly what the GT should look like at home.
According to marketing manager Henry Ford III, not only is this more exciting and engaging than any computer simulation, it also has two entirely different benefits. First, even if the package is likely to cost more than 100 dollars to produce, it is still cheaper in the end than programming a large and complex configurator.
Second, and above all, it alleviates the longing for the super sports car; waiting times of several years are only half as bad if you can play with your own personal GT model in the meantime. — dpa