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EU funds new immersive 3D virtual showroom

The motor industry has gone through massive changes since ‘any colour you like as long as its black’ was the mantra with Henry Ford’s iconic Model-T almost a century ago.

Car buyers are now presented with a choice that can be bewildering. Enter a new design tool to help potential buyers define what they want from their car without poring through model catalogues and configuration systems on manufacturer websites.

The result of an EU-funded research project, the CATER immersive vehicle configuration system allows customers to see every vehicle option and variation in high-resolution 3D on a television, large wall display or in a virtual reality cave.

Priced at around £10,000, the software runs on a normal PC and could help dealers achieve significant reductions in operating costs by dispensing with the need to have large showroom displays, claims co-ordinator Manfred Dangelmaier.

“In future, dealers should not have to provide premises to show off vehicles in different trim levels – they will only need to cater for cars for test drive purposes,” he says.

According to Dangelmaier, the CATER system works by showing potential buyers images of everyday objects that reflect abstract emotions, tastes and feelings that connect them with features on the car.

“It is similar to the mood boards that are used to help graphic designers define tastes and emotions through images. We can interpret that a customer who selects an image of sunglasses is seeking a cool, modern look and the system may interpret that someone selecting a picture of a business suit as wanting more refined features.

This system benefits all parties concerned. Buyers obtain a better understanding and clearer impression of the vehicle they are buying, and the options on it, because they are given the chance to provide ‘soft’ information about their tastes and feelings as well as ‘hard’ information about wants and needs.

“Dealers should benefit from increased customer satisfaction and potentially through customers making their choices faster and requiring less assistance from sales personnel,” he says.

Adds Dangelmaier: “We’re confident the current downturn in the industry will not hinder the chances for the adoption of CATER technology. The auto industry is not one to go backwards in terms of innovation and if virtual reality and customer-focused design help boost sales, it could even help lift car companies that become early adopters out of the crisis.”

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