Audi is proposing a novel shopping experience with its new digital 'cyberstore' concept, using the very latest digital technology to create an immersive environment for car buyers. The first 'Audi City' store has just opened in London, but Wallpaper* flew to a secret location in Audi's hometown of Ingolstadt to get a sneak preview of this virtual showroom venture.
'Audi City' has been created by a team of architects, designers and engineers to showcase the company's range outside of the traditional hard sales environment and into a more lively, high-tech arena. It's a sort of Apple Store for cars, with a nod at the full-screen interfaces beloved by Hollywood blockbusters.
We can confirm that the experience is genuinely playful and fun. The customer enters Audi City through a room furnished with giant 'powerwalls', thin screens that almost cover every wall space. Having digitally selected their Audi vehicle of choice through expansive multi-touch table-top screens - drilling down from the several hundred million possible configurations - the image is then transported in realistic 1:1 scale onto the HD screen before them.
This is when the fun begins. An avatar in the form of a little man allows the user to learn more about the vehicle and its engineering, as well as every detail of the technology - such as how the LED lights work. Interior colour and trim can all be changed and reconfigured, and the entire 3D model spun 360 degrees and 'driven' through virtual landscapes. The only thing missing is the opportunity to virtually drive the cars yourself, but Audi assures us this is something they are investigating.
The acoustic system ensures that the sound is individual to the selected car and that it is only audible to the specific customer. 'We digitalised all engine sounds, as well as door opening/shutting for each Audi car, for an authentic experience,' explains Floris Dreesman, the Audi corporate architect in charge of the project.
Audi City is also a logical solution to exhibiting an expanding car range and showing off the company's almost unlimited colour and customisation options, while keeping everything in a relatively compact space. Over the past few years, Audi's model range has grown hugely, making many space-pushed urban dealerships hard-pressed to show but a fraction of the cars in the line-up. Digital representation saves space and allows for real-time customisation in stores with an average space of just 450m2 - a third of a typical car salesroom.
In a private room away from the bustling crowds, more serious customers can configure their chosen vehicle using the multi-touch table, save the data on a USB stick and then get the rest dealt with by a more traditional dealer further down the line.
The firm has commissioned artist Chris Cunningham to premier his latest work to mark the opening of the first Audi City store on London's Piccadilly today. 'Jaqapparatus 1' is a fusion of live performance, robotics, sculpture and music with two enormous industrial machines using powerful lasers to attack, repel, communicate and dance with each other in a surreal mating display.
The London debut will be followed by a further 20 stores in major international cities by 2015, starting with Beijing, due to be completed by the end of the year. The architecture of each showroom is configured to suite local wants and needs. Beijing, for instance, will have a larger games area than Berlin, which will focus primarily on technology. In the future, Audi City will also play a crucial role in the marketing of new mobility services and the electric-drive e-tron models.
The overall ambition with Audi City is to create a transparent open space that creates a dialogue between car company and customer. 'We wanted to create a space that had no hierarchy, with no sales desks and with everyone on an eye-to-eye level,' notes Dreesman. 'We need to get into dialogue with the city, as it is here where future mobility will be decided.'