LAS VEGAS — Fiat has taken the car shopping journey to the metaverse.
The brand in December debuted its Fiat Metaverse Store in Italy that offers consumers the chance to configure vehicles in the virtual showroom and purchase them on the spot. The process will be shepherded by real product experts, not artificial intelligence, so this experience has a "human connection," said brand CEO Olivier Francois.
Fiat is looking to roll out the metaverse showroom in France, Germany and the United Kingdom in early 2023. Francois hopes to launch the showroom in the U.S. in early 2024 to line up with the return of the electric 500e.
Francois said the expert manning the store, known as a Fiat Product Genius, was inspired by Apple. The tech company uses the genius moniker for its store workers, who provide technical support and advice to customers.
The Fiat Product Genius is available to answer questions about issues such as vehicle charging. Fiat sought younger, tech-oriented candidates to become geniuses.
The metaverse store is being shown this week during the CES technology conference.
"The expectation is that the quality of the experience will be better because they are highly trained [and] highly specialized," Francois told Automotive News. "So this is why we have a human being and not an avatar."
Fiat said the store was developed in collaboration with Touchcast and Microsoft. Touchcast's Metaverse-as-a-Service platform is built on the Microsoft Cloud, Fiat said, and provides customers with access to the metaverse without requiring VR headsets, avatars or specialized hardware.
This experience also provides a bridge to physical dealerships. Shoppers can set up test drives at nearby stores after learning about the products in the metaverse showroom.
Francois said the store was "developed by Fiat for Fiat," but the technology is available if other Stellantis brands want to use it. But Francois said Fiat is the perfect fit for this kind of setup because of the simplicity of its lineup. A more complicated product slate with a plethora of customization options and pricier models, Francois said, could raise the need for someone to head to a dealership.
Fiat wanted to offer a service that is "super simple, accessible to all," said Laurent Diot, senior vice president of global marketing and communications for Fiat and Abarth. "It's as simple as clicking on the link and then suddenly you are in a Fiat Metaverse showroom. That was our intention, and I think we fulfilled that."