Dealers: 3-D helps us to stand out
Some experts tout imagery as a sales booster; others say it makes cars look 'cartoonish'
Photo credit: PHOTOS COURTESY EVOX IMAGES
Advanced 3-D technologies are helping dealers boost sales of some vehicles even before those vehicles have hit showrooms.
With 3-D imagery, dealer Web sites can provide a realistic view of a vehicle's depth, show how it moves and interacts with its environment and let shoppers explore its interior. Dealers also can let consumers configure a vehicle with accessories or take it for a virtual test drive.
The imagery represents "a richer way to demonstrate what you're trying to sell" than showing a customer a brochure, said Chris Sutton, senior director of automotive retail for J.D. Power and Associates. He expects 3-D imagery to become more common over the next three to five years -- sooner if large dealership groups adopt it.
One vendor, Evox Images, provides 3-D photos for dealer Web sites. Dealers pay $45 a month to access more than 1 million images of 6,500 vehicles since the 2000 model year.
The company's CEO, David Falstrup, says its images are licensed for use on more than 22,000 dealer Web sites at more than 10,000 dealerships. Kelsey Rae Evans, Internet and marketing director at Huntington Beach Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in Huntington Beach, Calif., is an Evox Images customer.
She says that in half of her store's sales, customers have been exposed to the Evox images on the dealership's Web site.
"People are shopping online," Evans says. "They don't come to the store and kick tires anymore. If we can give them those mental images, it helps us to stand out."
Jeff Skobin, marketing manager for Galpin Motors, which uses Evox images for its new inventory vehicles, says the images allow customers to view a vehicle with more depth.
"It's a step closer to seeing it live," Skobin says.
Richard Fisler, assistant vice president of marketing and e-commerce for Conant Auto Retail Group, which has 13 dealerships in California and Florida, uses Evox images and has salespeople shoot videos of vehicles for individual customers. The group has Honda, Ford, Lincoln, Infiniti, Hyundai, Acura, Toyota, Scion and Volkswagen franchises.
The salespeople use hand-held devices and provide narration for the walk-arounds, then e-mail the videos to the customers.
"It doesn't take very long and it's a nice, personal touch," Fisler says.
Some dealers use 3-D technology to boost accessory sales. Izmocars, of San Francisco, provides a 3-D Web program, AddOnAuto, for dealership showrooms. It allows consumers to see how accessories -- such as a spoiler kit, paint protection or a sunroof -- would appear on their vehicles.
Izmocars began rolling out AddOnAuto to dealerships in 2010. Today, 540 stores subscribe to the program, which costs dealers $200 to $1,200 per month. The higher price includes a consulting package with training.
The program allows consumers to select accessories offered by manufacturers and other vendors. The software includes more than 20 billion image combinations, with 2,000 new images added every week.
Sidney Haider, president of AddOnAuto, says, "Without visualization, you cannot get people truly engaged." He says the program offers the same type of engagement as playing a video game.
Two of Rick Case Automotive Group's stores use AddOnAuto and more are expected to adopt it, says Sal Seragusa, national fixed operations director for the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., dealership group.
Seragusa says the program allows him to keep accessories purchases in-house. He says all salespeople are required to show buyers the program before they can finance their vehicles.
Rick Case Honda in Davie, Fla., pays $1,299 per month for the program, while Rick Case Fiat, also in Davie, pays $950. Seragusa said that before the Honda store began using the program, the dealership sold $35,000 to $40,000 in accessories a month. It now generates between $85,000 and $100,000 per month, and sales have been as high as $150,000.
One Rick Case Honda customer, Victor Franco, was undecided about buying a spoiler for his 2012 Honda CR-V that he bought in September. Then the salesperson showed him the accessories site.
"I was able to see it online and it looked nice," he said. He ended up buying the spoiler, as well as a decorative attachment to the muffler, paying $640 for both accessories.
When he picked up the car the next day with the added accessories, Franco says, said it looked identical to the images he saw on the site.
Some dealerships are using 3-D images to give a sense of a vehicle's handling. Nissan launched a pilot program for its 2013 Pathfinder, due to conclude this month, at 16 dealerships using a Kinect motion-detection device like the one found in a Microsoft Xbox 360 gaming console. The program provides an in-store preview of the Pathfinder.
Erich Marx, director of interactive and social media marketing for Nissan North America, said dealers and customers viewed the system favorably.
Many customers tried it while waiting to have their cars serviced, with 10 to 15 people using it on average per day.
He said it has helped solve the "ongoing problem of how to generate excitement" for a vehicle that's not yet in showrooms. The company will evaluate the program when it's over to decide whether to use it again.
Mitsubishi piloted a remote test drive for its Outlander Sport crossover in 2010. It used radio frequencies to send signals to a robotics actuator in a vehicle that consumers piloted remotely.
Customers could experience the test drive by using keyboard arrows to maneuver the vehicle. As the world's first online test drive, it generated buzz, said Roger Yasukawa, Mitsubishi Motors North America's manager of product communications. But he said the company doesn't plan to use it again because it requires full-time staff to monitor the vehicle and an open area for the test drive.
Some believe 3-D technologies aren't ready for prime time. Dealers who have experienced it tend to say the rendering is not good enough, said Steve Wilhite, an independent consultant in Southern California who headed Volkswagen advertising and Nissan global marketing.
"The cars look cartoonish," he said, adding that there isn't enough breadth of imagery for it to be useful.
But, drawing an analogy to Pixar and feature films, he expects the technology to rapidly advance. When the product better represents the car, Wilhite says, the rate of adoption among dealers will be "absolutely huge."
Even then, Adam Simms, COO of Price-Simms Inc., which owns five stores in the San Francisco Bay area, believes the best imagery still won't replace real-world shopping.
"When the customer gets to the showroom, they don't want to get on a computer," he said. "They want to touch, smell and drive the car they want to buy."