Chris Cunningham opened the first Audi City cyberstore in the heart of London today with the premier of his latest work Jaqapparatus 1. Here the London-based artist and filmmaker fuses live performance, robotics, sculpture and music – his two industrial machine creations use powerful lasers to attack, repel, communicate and dance with each other in a surreal mating display. It is a very visual high-tech piece to mark the opening of what is to be a new experience for buying cars.
The idea of course isn’t completely new. Apple has led the way in creating retail environments that are so much more than a shopping experience. In a similar vein, the marque hopes its Audi City stores will attract a younger customer who will want to engage with the brand, become part of the so-called family, and in the process learn something about the cars, have fun and hopefully buy a car.
It is also a very practical solution for showing the vast range and millions of body, colour & trim configurations possible – a traditional showroom simply cannot house these cars physically. With an average of around 450m2 of floor space, they measures just around a third of classic dealerships.
A week prior to today’s launch I was taken to Ingolstadt, Germany – the home of the brand – to see some of the thinking behind Audi City. I was led to a secret location where a dummy store was set up to act as a test bed of ideas. Audi has been working on this idea for almost two years and the exercise is on going with not just 20 future shops planned in key urban areas, but also for further enhancements in digital technology.
The Audi City shopping experience is pretty fun. You enter through a room with giant powerwalls that full the entire space. Having digitally selected your vehicle of choice through multi-touch tables from the several hundred million possible configurations, you then transport the image in life-size scale onto the HD screen.
Then the fun begins. An avatar in the form of a graphic man allows you to learn more about your vehicle, its engineering, how the LED lights work; you can reconfigure the interior colour and trim, spin it around 360 degrees, have it drive through virtual landscapes – the only thing missing is to virtually drive the cars. The acoustic system ensures that the sound is individual to the selected car and that it is only audible to the specific customer. The engineers have digitalised all engine sounds as well as the door opening/shutting for each car for an authentic Audi sound.
In a private room away from the crowds, more serious customers can then configure their chosen vehicle using multi-touch table, save the data on a USB stick and the rest will be dealt with by the more traditional dealers.
More than 20 further locations are planned by 2015, in cities such as Shanghai, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Moscow, and New York with Beijing opening at the end of the year. Audi hopes these transparent open spaces will generate a dialogue between the car company, the customer and the city – ideas from which will feed back into the company and its ideas on future mobility.
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