Audi City: Showroom of the future
Audi have had a showroom on the prime real estate of Piccadilly Road, opposite the Ritz, for quite some time. However several months ago it was boarded up whilst it underwent a transformation – the boards advertising ‘a car for the future, for a showroom of the future’. Whilst one may normally think that this just means changing the lighting and a lick of paint, maybe some new flooring, perhaps some new desks, this was certainly not to be the case. Welcome to the digital world and the new Audi City London.
A showroom for the future is exactly what has been installed, and this is the sort of thing the sci-fi movies from the 80s and 90s led us to believe we’d have today, albeit without the flying cars. Sure, there is a nice new floor and paint, but there is a deal of intrigue as when you walk in there are gigantic screens on the walls and some flashy looking tables with touch screens.
The user experience is engaging in its simplicity and heavily reliant upon new media technology. You being upstairs in the open plan room, with 4 large screens and 4 smaller touch screen podiums. Standing in front of the large screen, you calibrate its motion sensor, powered by Microsoft Kinect, so that you can pick and choose a car by moving to the left or the right. You can learn more about its options and specific functions, have it drive around the screen and listen to each model’s specific recorded sounds, everything from the rev of the engine to the closing of the doors, played at you by a direction capable floating speaker system.
Once you’ve picked a model you like you can go over to the podiums and configure it more fully. Every aspect can be tailored here in a step-by-step process something akin to the Grand Tourismo or Need for Speed customisation menus. Every step adds another layer to the car, starting from the model, and engine, all the way up to the fabric on the interior and the tech packages. Each step adds more to the cost which is displayed as your progress, and you can look inside the car and view it from the outside at any point, and can send this back to the giant screens for better viewing. Once completed you can call for further help, share it via social media, print it, or save it for later.
If you’d like to take it further and contemplate a purchase or arrange a test drive, you are taken to a private customer room downstairs. These rooms, again, have a multi-touch tablet and a screen on the wall, although somewhat smaller. Here you are assisted by an Audi representative who will talk you through any questions you have and help you take the next step. All of the customisable surfaces have a sample here, which you can pick up, feel, and place on the desk. A nifty use of RFID here means that, once placed on the table, the option you have selected will apply itself to the car on screen. Each Audi City is connected to a dealership which can arrange for test drives, etc. You might think that removing almost all of the physical elements would result in a removed and slightly obscure process, but given that 90% of Audi customers currently utilise its online interface for purchases, the Audi City concept seems like a suitable response. Indeed, upon further questioning, sales were made through the consumer testing of the Audi City process – the lead time for which is still a better than average 12 weeks.
The greatest thing about the new Audi City is it’s lack of cars. Before you think I’ve lost my mind, please bare with me whilst I explain why. Audi currently has 36 models, a 50% increase in the past 5 years alone, and forecast to reach 40 by 2015. Imagine trying to fit 40 models in to a showroom – a quick estimate would suggest a requirement of 300 square meters. Add to this all the various customisable options and you’re reaching around 7 million permutations, that’s easily over 23 square miles of tightly packed cars – the size of Manhattan. However the combination of large screens, internally housed servers and touch screen interfaces bring every single car to your finger tips, which can be displayed on 2.1m high resolution screens on a scale of 1:1.
These 2.1m screens are manned by brand ambassadors. They don’t sell cars, but simply help you engage, play and design an Audi you’d love, which you can then share with people via social media. Of course, you can buy cars here or at least take it to the next stage.
Also, for a limited time, a Chris Cunningham art exhibit will be in place at the Piccadilly Road Audi City, called Jaqapparatus 1. This is a conceptual art piece, assaulting the majority of your senses, with machinery, sound, lasers and gas creating a memorable and exciting experience. To start with, it is large, covering the entire length of the showroom’s floor, with two large machines on tracks, an engine block sitting in the middle, two screens against the wall and a variety of other technological pieces that make the whole thing work. An awful lot of thought and work has gone in the programming of the display, as the movement of the robotics, the lasers, the sound and the lighting all build up to an overpowering show. To me, its what I imagined two Transformers getting it on might be like, but really you’ll need to check it out for yourself whilst you still can.