VENICE BEACH, Calif. — Automakers trying to reach young buyers face a conundrum: How do they sell a car to people who stay away from a showroom?
"They won't come into the stores to educate themselves," said Peter Chung, general manager of Magic Toyota and Scion in Edmonds, Wash. "They'll do that online." More than half the younger buyers surveyed by car-buying site AutoTrader.com said they wanted to avoid interacting with dealership sales representatives.
In response, automakers like Cadillac and Toyota are starting to embrace technology that tries to take the showroom to the buyer. Known as augmented reality, it embeds images and videos in a picture on the user's smartphone or tablet. The result is a far more detailed view of the image, often in three dimensions with added layers of information.
For example, when Cadillac introduced the ATS last year, it created a campaign in cities across the country that allowed observers to point an iPad at a chalk mural and watch the car drive through scenes like China's mountainous Guoliang Tunnel and Monaco's Grand Prix circuit. The goal was to grab the attention of potential buyers, especially younger ones.
Later, Cadillac added the technology to its print advertising, pointing readers to download the brand's smartphone application to view a three-dimensional model of the car.
"It's obviously different than going to a dealership, but at least it's enough to engage with the vehicle in an environment where they're comfortable," said Arianna Kughn, Cadillac's social media manager.
Specular Theory, based in Venice Beach, is using Hollywood production techniques to create renderings that allow users to open the doors of a car that isn't really there, peer inside and walk around, or take a test drive, merely by running their fingers over a phone or tablet screen.
Its founder, Morris May, is applying the expertise he developed over 20 years as a graphic designer on movies like Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Spider-Man 2 to redefine the way people view cars in the showroom, online and through mobile devices.
"We're changing the way people experience cars," May said, as he used his finger to open the car door of the virtual model displayed on his iPad, revealing the interior of the car, including the dashboard, steering wheel and texture of the seats.