Audi has opened the second of 20 planned digital showrooms aimed at impressing urban customers with an interactive experience that could not be offered by brochures and machine coffee at the standard dealership. The new Audi City in Beijing follows the opening of the inaugural London showroom in 2012, keeping to the same format by allowing customers to view configured cars on floor-to-ceiling screens.
The Audi City showroom, however, reduces traditional dealer functions like the test drive. Audi’s largest rivals – BMW and Mercedes-Benz – are also opening digital showrooms.
BMW opened in 2012 its first Brand Store on an upscale Paris shopping street, saying it will announce similar showrooms later this year. In September 2012, Mercedes-Benz opened its inaugural Visionary Store in a shopping arcade in Milan, featuring the new A class. Carmakers want to be in prestigious, high-traffic locations in their bid to introduce potential buyers to the brand rather than giving them the hard sell.
A BMW spokeswoman told Automotive News Europe that the digital showrooms are taking pressure off the whole buying process. Part of the appeal of the digital showrooms is the "wow" factor from digital technology. BMW invested around EUR11 million ($15 million) on the Paris store, EUR3 million of which were spent on the digital element that includes five car configurators that can be viewed in 3-D.
Customers at the Beijing Audi City can configure their vehicles through screens with gesture control. Six powerwalls having a total surface area of 94 square meters display their newly configured car driving in a number of settings. Mercedes also employs gesture controls at its Milan store and also provides customers the chance to experience its car-specific apps. Audi said that while test drive and the other dealer functions are done in other places, the aim is still to sell cars.