By: Malcom Chakery
Virtual reality has been gathering public interest quickly in recent months. Several tech giants, perhaps most notably Facebook, have weighed in with big bets on virtual reality technology. For Vroom, the opening of virtual reality showrooms may be as much a marketing tactic as a trial balloon to see if the concept will take off.
At the virtual reality showrooms, visitors will don high-quality (and very pricey) headsets that will enable them to “test drive” 15 different car models. 900lbs of Creative, a marketing outfit in Dallas, designed the software behind the test drive; it will run on HTC’s Vive VR headsets.
Test drives will be available for the cars offered in Vroom’s showroom. The virtual reality setting is a car lot, typical of the ones customers would encounter at a used car dealership. Staring at a car reveals information about it presented in virtual reality; customers are also able to open car doors and look inside at 3D images of their interiors.
For the actual “test drive,” visitors to Vroom’s showroom will watch a 360-degree of a car in motion. While they won’t have the same sensations of bumping and handling that customers experience on actual test drives, Vroom has added sound to simulate noise from the car’s engine.
Vroom anticipates that customers may find this new offering confusing and it is preparing to have employees on hand to guide visitors through the entire virtual reality process from start to finish.
The company was quick to note that it was not betting the farm on virtual reality, telling Fortune that the new initiative costs less than 10 percent of the company’s overall spending.
However, company officials said they do plan to continue to refine the features of their current virtual reality showroom to give consumers an even better sense of the cars they are considering for purchase.
As another part of Vroom’s virtual reality initiative, the company will release a home version of the showroom. That version will be accessible on Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear. However, because these virtual reality devices are not as high end as HTC’s Vive, the experience is expected to be of somewhat lesser quality.
The announcement by Vroom comes on the heels of a similar pilot launched by General Motors, which is creating virtual reality showrooms for Cadillacs. And in Europe, Audi has already launched a virtual reality showroom in London.
At least initially, Vroom’s showrooms will be at existing offices in Grand Prairie and Houston, Texas, as well as in “pop-up” stores at malls in Austin and Phoenix.