‘Tech heavy, asset light’ – the future of automotive retail?

Current resource-intensive online car configurators are clunky and quickly out of date. Could a Cloud-based, 3D, software-based solution be the answer? By Llewelyn Fox

The results of studies recently published by both Frost & Sullivan and Accenture, support the belief that the pattern for future vehicle sales will soon include a significant contribution from direct online sales. Through the industry’s early forays into online selling, car buyers are displaying a great propensity for buying online – at a rate that surpasses the industry’s collective growth. Frost & Sullivan statistics suggest that 20% of car sales will be completed entirely online by 2025, which equates to forecasted sales of US$4.5bn. Furthermore, the Accenture figures show that 75% of Americans are already happy to buy a car without leaving their front rooms.

So, does a future generation of automotive armchair shoppers spell the end for traditional dealerships and sharp-suited sales patter? Not necessarily, according to ZeroLight Chief Executive, Darren Jobling, whose technology-led company has recently been announced as a visualisation partner to Audi. The growth of online sales is, according to Jobling, only half of the automotive retail revolution – the other half is the digitisation of the dealership network. He makes a compelling case for how his company’s car configuration technology can provide dealerships with powerful tools to drive continued success while also playing a key role in the future growth of online sales.

“ZeroLight aims to change the way the industry sells cars” - Darren Jobling, Chief Executive, ZeroLight
“ZeroLight aims to change the way the industry sells cars” – Darren Jobling, Chief Executive, ZeroLight

“Digitising the dealer network”

ZeroLight is making some big claims. “The bottom line is that ZeroLight aims to change the way the industry sells cars,” says Jobling. “A digitised market place has the potential to provide OEMs and dealers who embrace new technology with a fantastic opportunity to tap into renewed growth and customer interest,” he says, as a nod to ZeroLight’s development of the real-time 3D visualisation technology that powers its advanced car configurator.

By adopting advanced configurator technology for their showrooms, dealer networks can continue to remain relevant to the modern-day car buyer and meet their heightening expectations.

“The proliferation of large model ranges and extensive options, add-ons and configurations means that it is impossible to accurately represent every option in a traditional forecourt environment, and even the glossiest of brochures can never truly characterise a brand’s values and connect with the buyer in a way that a genuinely interactive experience is able to,” says Jobling. “Uptake of ZeroLight technology provides dealers with the tools to flourish in a digitised retail environment – a heightened visual, interactive experience will lead to a scenario where customers see more benefit and real value in a showroom visit. They can flick through the options in real time using stunning Ultra High Definition screens, experience the textural subtleties of limited edition options or bespoke finishes, and see instantly the way their choices impact the car’s looks and dynamic performance. They will be able to connect emotionally to ‘their’ car in a way which would not have been possible with brochures and physical demonstrators in pre-designated specifications.”

This vision may not be new – digitised dealerships such as Audi City have been in the industry for several years – but what is original is the ZeroLight claim to make a digital experience available in every showroom. “From tablets and computer screens, to touch screens and kiosks, large 4K Ultra HD screens, video walls and virtual reality headsets – ZeroLight is a flexible solution with many sizes and form factors that can work with any showroom’s size and floor plan,” explains Jobling.

It doesn’t just apply to existing showrooms in the dealer network: ZeroLight believes its technology makes the dream of scalable digital-only dealerships a reality. “Making the most of network and store format innovations to capitalise on high footfall areas – such as shopping centres and high streets – is key to the industry, and we should look to digital solutions to enable this,” he muses.

Zerolight solutions
“What ZeroLight is offering is a ‘tech heavy, asset light’ solution. There are many benefits to this, but, most of all, the customer experience is greatly improved” – Darren Jobling, Chief Executive, ZeroLight


Online uptake and consolidation

Talk of the future rise of ‘online’ in the automotive retail sector must not overshadow the fact that over 90% of prospective new car customers already use the Internet when considering a new purchase, many of them the vehicle manufacturer’s official site. “This online research invariably results in toying with colours and trim options using a configurator on the manufacturer’s website,” says Jobling. “The makeup of a traditional, last-generation configurator requires an extraordinary resource commitment from vehicle manufacturers, both in generating thousands of images and the subsequent post-processing and quality control required to compose even the most basic system.”

Jobling explains that these are what ZeroLight call ‘asset heavy, tech light’ configurators: “They require enormous effort to establish, with thousands of images, and even when complete the customer experience is very basic.” As model ranges and options packs continue to expand, the financial and physical commitment required to maintain the online presence becomes ever more burdening.

“What ZeroLight is offering is a ‘tech heavy, asset light’ solution. There are many benefits to this, but, most of all, the customer experience is greatly improved,” he enthuses.

The technology at the heart of the ZeroLight web configurator solution is the same as in its dealership solutions, though now located in the Cloud to utilise the graphical power of Cloud-computing. This means users of the online configurator continue to benefit from a live, 3D scene of the car and the freedom of exploration and customisation that this brings. “We’ve removed the hard processing work from the customer’s device and placed it in the Cloud,” explains Jobling. “The result is that any customer can have a fantastic, 3D configuration experience regardless of the specification of their PC, laptop or tablet. One of the key innovations is that customers do not need to download or install a plugin to make it work.”

The benefit to the OEM of a software-led solution is also very clear to see, believes Jobling: “That investment in the software is never lost; it continues to pay off over time and continues to get better with updates. With an asset-led solution, your investment is lost when the car changes, since all of your images need to be discarded and remade from scratch.”

This is a fresh new thinking regarding the makeup of car configurators, and ZeroLight can provide real impetus to the growth of online car sales. “We’re reimagining the online car configurator with new real-time 3D visualisation technology,” says Jobling, “with the purpose of inspiring online configurator uptake to the point where customers will readily buy entirely online, satisfied that they have explored, customised and matched the car to their needs using the tools on the website.”

As the inclination to buy through the web increases, expect the utilisation of advanced 3D online configurators to come to the fore and gradually align the automotive industry with what we have come to expect of the modern retail experience: a digital freedom to explore complementing manufacturers’ ability to accurately express the full potential of their products.

This article appeared in the Q3 2015 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue.

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