Some say virtual reality is not fully baked yet, others say it’s nothing but a PR gimmick. But look, Jaguar Land Rover have been using the technology since 2007. And not just for its own sake, but because it drives results. Let’s find out exactly how.
Imagine an empty room with three enormous screens on the walls and a ceiling, all with photorealistic images of a car. With 3D glasses on, you can move around the guts of the vehicle, you can put your head anywhere. You can test the trunk space, look under the hood, or deconstruct the entire car. That’s the Cave. It’s where engineers and designers test a Jaguar long before it becomes physical.
Traditionally, designers would put a concept into Computer Aided Design (CAD), build several clay models, and, after some back-and-forth, take engineering from there. With VR, it’s different, says Brian Waterfield, Jaguar’s virtual reality technical lead. As soon as the product has been visualized in CAD, “the designer can immerse himself in that model straightaway, and he can start to understand the customer experience. So the process gets, I wouldn’t say quicker, but it gives our designers more time and more experiences of the car.“
Apart from driving engineering excellence, the virtual world can improve the company’s bottom line, enabling comprehensive testing and optimization of vehicles without the need to manufacture and re-manufacture physical parts. But Jaguar’s director of vehicle engineering Mark Stanton believes this is not the goal.
He says the goal is quality and getting the product right the first time. When design and engineering are done properly, money will come. “The way it has always worked is you build an expensive prototype which will be smashed into a wall, and do that many times. But if you can understand the car in a virtual world then you don’t have to do a lot of those crash tests. The utopia is to do them in virtual reality until the final crash test.”
While Jaguar’s team uses virtual reality to build a better understanding of design and engineering, customers can tap into immersive experiences to have a 360-degree look at a car before it arrives in their local showroom. Earlier this year, the company rolled out their VR packs across over 1,500 retailers in 85 markets.
The ROI for this new way of buying cars has been proven in Jaguar’s growing market share. In 2016, the company’s sales increased by 24%, in which, leadership believes, VR has played a great role. According to Joe Eberhardt, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover North America, the technology won’t replace the real dealer experience, but it will surely take sales to the next level. He says it will “help retailers break the ice with customers and inject even more fun into the process of buying our vehicles.”
Jaguar is not alone in exploring the virtual world. More and more automotive companies, such as Audi and Toyota, join hands with software developers to provide interactive experiences while supporting the launch of their brand new cars.
In this highly innovative industry, the capabilities of VR can go way beyond development and sales, reinventing training, public awareness, and more. But as we now look at Jaguar’s success story, one thing is for sure: the technology is already here, driving tangible results for the car masterminds who want to master everything they are minding.