10 February, 2021

Virtual reality offers customers a safe online test drive

Abarth has launched a virtual reality (VR) ‘test-drive’ pack, allowing UK customers to sample its vehicles when considering an online purchase.

The carmaker is to run a trial of the technology via one UK dealership. If successful, the scheme will be rolled out across the entire country. Abarth believes the idea will help customers enjoy their vehicles while remaining safe in their homes during COVID-19 lockdowns.

The move could be seen as a ‘quirky’ marketing gimmick, but in a time when manufacturers are being forced to push for online sales as dealerships in some markets remain closed, the VR test drive could add that extra sense of realism to the virtual-buying experience.

Personal greeting

Trials began this week (8 February) with experts from the Vospers Abarth dealership in Exeter delivering a headset and pair of Bose headphones to customers. The unit is pre-loaded with ‘test-drive’ footage of the limited edition Abarth 595 Scorpioneoro model.

Once set up, customers will be greeted by Abarth owner and automotive influencer Stef Villaverde, who will guide them through the virtual experience. He will detail the car and its features before taking the wheel and giving the customer a tour of some of the UK’s best driving roads, as chosen by the carmaker’s online community.

‘We are delighted to be able to offer this innovative test-drive approach to our customers and Abarth fans,’ commented Arnaud Leclerc, managing director of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles UK. ‘This VR experience allows customers to enjoy the thrill of driving a 595, but from the safety of their own homes.’ 

Online potential

Due to COVID-19 lockdowns, physical locations are only open for collection and maintenance in some markets. For customers who want a new vehicle, purchasing online is the only option. Yet this does create a dilemma, with those who have no experience of the model they intend to buy going into the process blind.

This can put people off purchasing; indeed, sales figures in countries with dealerships restricted (especially Germany and the UK) have seen significant declines. While a virtual test-drive cannot offer the ‘hands-on’ feeling of a physical drive, it gives customers an extra piece of information about the vehicle, how it might handle perform. Depending on this trial's success, other carmakers may consider virtual test drives, as they develop their online-retail platforms, even beyond COVID-19 necessities.

The trial also highlights the importance of social media in the digital age. Using an influencer to guide the customer through the vehicle, Abarth's approach mirrors one taken by Daimler when launching its new EQA last month. The carmaker invited three social-media personalities to test drive the model and provide feedback in its online launch video, as well as documenting the process via their respective channels.