A glimpse of the future?

For those who love their tech, news that Ford is working to develop a virtual reality platform which could see customers make use of headsets or visualise cars through state-of-the-art holograms at home, could set pulses racing.

Ford is no stranger to this compelling science. Already making extensive use of VR in its design within a facility at its Design Studio, in Cologne, Germany, the popular car manufacturer allows designers to fully experience a vehicle without the need for a physical prototype. There, designers of the new Ford Fiesta were able to experience and confirm location of vehicle controls, dashboard layout and seating positions using the technology.

In a move that innovative founder Henry Ford would be delighted by, it seems that the company could take things one step further and utilise showroom space more effectively with display cars created in hologram or VR form. In essence this could even transform customers' living rooms into their very own showrooms.

And how long will we have to wait for this to be a reality? Well, Ford has estimated 10 years. They have confirmed they are currently exploring the potential of a range of virtual and augmented reality technologies allowing them to layer digital holograms onto the real world that could creating a perfect “first date” test drive experience.

“We envisage that one day a customer could identify the model they are interested in – from the colour, to the exact finish of their interior – and the time and place they would like to simulate. That scenario could then be recreated on a bespoke basis,” said Jeffrey Nowak, global digital experience chief, Ford Motor Company. “There really is no limit to the depth of detail. The possibilities are endless.”

He added: “It really is a blank canvas. It is easy to imagine that someone who wants to buy an SUV could experience taking that car for a test drive over desert dunes without leaving the comfort of their home,” said Jeffrey Nowak, global digital experience chief, Ford Motor Company. “Likewise, if you’re in the market for a city car you could be at home, relaxing in your PJs and fit in trying out the peak-time school run after you’ve put the kids to bed.”

According to Sheryl Connelly, Ford global trend and futuring manager, customers can be baffled by an overwhelming choice presented by the limitless options presented by virtual platforms, however. This could lead to “Decider’s Dilemma”, she said, adding: “With the internet, consumers face an abundance of choice – impacting their attitudes toward commitment.

“Products and services are adapting to accommodate a ‘sampling society’ that prioritises trying over buying.”

Seeming to suggest the need for a more tactile test drive experience, however, Amko Leenarts, Ford’s head of global interior design operations, said: “People decide within three minutes if they love a product or not, and it is the same for your car.

“From the moment you get in, you form connections with the smell, the feel of the surfaces, or the sound of the car door closing and it’s very powerful if we – as designers – can help create the perfect experience for the customer.”

Will other manufacturers follow? Watch this space.

By Tracey McBain