Virtual Test Drive: How test drives are changing forever

Technology and Business

Alice Salter

Alice Salter



In this article Alice will explore:

If you’ve ever bought a car, then it’s likely you’ll have taken it for a test drive. But how does this experience look in the future, when you won’t need to touch a steering wheel at all?  

A new way to test drive

Buying a car without first taking it for a spin may seem like a risky idea. But in the driverless future, where our experience is dictated by design, rather than drivability, why would we need to actually be in the car to test it?


Instead, we could immerse ourselves in the experience of a particular model without ever leaving the dealership or, better yet, home. That is where virtual test drives come in.


Virtual reality is the most popular option, and one being tested by many brands. With a VR headset, these test drives allow us to see cars inside and out, and apps like Relay Cars give us access to a huge selection of models. Audi took this to the next level with their ‘Enter Sandbox’ campaign, allowing customers to get a real feel for the Q5 in a simulator, and move virtually around a track they designed.


Though VR can work outside of the showroom, particularly with cheaper and more easily obtainable headsets like Google Cardboard, the value of equipment needed for the full experience means we’ll usually have to head to a dealership for a virtual test drive. Augmented reality, however, can be achieved from any location.


ŠKODA’s AR app, which uses AR tech, allows us to place a car on our street and have a closer look with just our phones and no specialist equipment. Vitally, this can be done from home – something which has become even more appealing in the wake of Covid-19.


Virtual experiences like this are likely to increase dramatically in years to come. Customer experience is rating higher than ever in our priorities as people want to experience more of the car and engage less with a salesperson. Virtual test driving makes this simpler.


We’re certainly ready to trust virtual systems with getting to know our cars, but are we ready to trust AVs yet? Find out in What will it take for us to trust driverless tech?


What virtual test drive options are on offer right now?

The range of virtual test drives we can experience is huge. They vary from relatively straightforward ideas, like SEAT’s live showcase which connects customers with dealers to tour models over livestreamed video, to innovate tech like Holoride’s in-car experiences which launch users into a virtual theme park.

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Image: Holorider

Audi lead the way with VR

Audi have had VR in showrooms since as early as 2016 and are continuing to work with the tech. Dealerships now use the Oculus VR headset to introduce customers to any model in their range and have worked on intuitive motion control so you can move around the virtual car in their showroom without walking too far.


Marcus Kühne, strategy lead immersive technologies at Audi, says, “It’s not just about showing our cars in a very realistic way. It’s about the experience.” At Audi that experience is full of choice – any model in any configuration and a huge selection of surroundings for your test drive too. The next step will be doing all this outside the showroom.



Porsche offers AR and VR

Porsche have shown interest in the potential of VR through their partnership with Holoride, but are yet to offer VR test drives which replicate the experience. They do, however, have a virtual reality hub which gives customers the Porsche experience from home using Google Cardboard. Plus, you can get a taste of luxury using their AR app to place the Mission E on your own driveway.



Jaguar Land Rover focuses on experience

Virtual reality is slowly creeping into the Jaguar Land Rover showroom, though so far it has been used primarily for launches. With the Discovery Sport, only virtual models arrived in showrooms, along with the Durovis Dive headset, and more recently the Defender launched with an off-road VR experience.


You may wear a headset on your next visit as dealerships are seeing the benefits of VR – it can help to explain unique features under the hood and it is super cost-effective as even incredibly small outlets can still have the full range, and every variation of each model, on show.

Are we seeing the end of dealerships?

It is easy to see how virtual test driving could mark the end of dealerships as we know them. The numbers show that we’re not too keen on showrooms – a survey of 11,000 global customers revealed 64% would prefer to complete the entire transaction of buying a personal vehicle online and of millennials, who now make up 40% of new vehicle buyers, only 12% visit a dealership for research.


But everything seems to point to a changing experience rather than the end of dealerships. Showrooms will increasingly focus on experiences and it is virtual tech which will allow them to do this.


Just as Tesla changed the game by making stores a place to get a feel for cars before buying online, VR will allow small spaces to become flexible showrooms for endless models. Even if personal ownership drops off with automated driving, showrooms will still be the place to test out which car, and company, you’d like to ride with.


Dealerships will be all about experiences and those experiences will often come in the form of a VR headset. We may still buy cars in the future, but test drives will never be the same.


What do you think a test drive will look in 10 years? Have you already experienced a VR journey? Would you buy a car without ever getting in it? Let us know in the comments section, or join the debate on social media. 

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