LONDON -- The young couple from Chicago left the Audi dealership disappointed. They wanted an A4 but the car was out of stock and they couldn't order it. Still, the dealership staff proudly recounts the tale.
Why? Because the dealership wasn't in Chicago but across the Atlantic in London. The Chicago couple wanted the A4 shipped from England -- even though they couldn't order it there because the store uses the U.K. ordering system, which has right-hand-drive vehicles -- because they were wowed by the dealership's showroom technology.
The dealership, Audi City in Mayfair, central London, showcases a revolutionary new way for Volkswagen's premium brand to sell not just cars but the brand itself.
Since the dealership opened in 2012 just before the London Olympics, the small, 4,600-square-foot store has created such a buzz that it has joined London institutions such as the Ritz Hotel across Piccadilly and the Fortnum & Mason food store farther down the street as stops for guided tours.
"Tomorrow we've got three groups of 30 coming in," says Kasuni Vitharana, head of the dealership's specialist information team. "We don't mind the tourist groups, but we do appreciate a bit of notice."
The dealership's star attractions are the four so-called powerwalls -- nearly floor-to-ceiling screens that display a customer's chosen car. The powerwalls, created from 36 backlit LED display screens almost seamlessly joined together, are linked to high-definition touch screens mounted on tables where cars can be configured.
Consumers choose the model, color, engine and other specifications on the table, then swipe the screen to send the completed car to the wall. There they can spin it around, peer inside, open the doors and trunk and even watch it drive off, complete with authentic engine noises. As with the latest iPad interaction, commands are instantly and smoothly relayed. The effect is mesmerizing.
Audi City London also has three so-called private customer lodges in the basement.