The Test Drive Reimagined

In the early 90’s, my wife and I began our quest to purchase a new car. She was very excited about the idea of shopping for her first NEW car. At the top of her list was Dodge’s compact sports car – The Daytona.

Not wanting to dampen her enthusiasm, our first stop was the local Dodge dealership. After walking the lot with an overly chatty salesman, she picked the Daytona she wanted to take out for a test spin. As soon as she eased down in the bucket seat, I knew the experience was gonna’ go south.

She started the car and began moving the seat back and forth. She raised the seat back and was pulling herself up on the steering wheel. All the while, our salesman was saying, “What do you think? Let’s take this baby for spin!” Reluctantly, she dropped it into drive and eased out on the road. We only went a few blocks before she turned around and went back to the dealership. When we got back the salesman wanted to hustle us to his desk to “start the paperwork.” She told him that she wasn’t really comfortable in the car and asked for a few minutes to talk it over with me.

Truth is… my wife is only 5-foot tall. Once she eased down into the bucket seat of the Daytona, she was just above eye level with the dash and couldn’t see over the hood. The test drive yielded an unexpected result… she was too short for the car she had her heart set on. Of course, our salesman turned us over to his manager believing that price was the obstacle. Once I explained the real issue, he completely understood.

Had it not been for a real-world test drive, she would have ended up with a car that she wouldn’t have been comfortable operating. It’s the memory of that experience that makes me wonder why anyone would purchase a car without taking a test drive. But today, many buyers are doing just that.

According to Cox Automotive, consumers spend nearly 14 hours online researching and shopping for a vehicle. They compare models, features, warranties, special incentives and financing offers. 83% of car shoppers prefer to start the buying process online and a growing number of consumers are choosing to complete the process and purchase their vehicle online.

So how do you test drive a vehicle that you’re buying online? The answer, “Technology.”

Manufacturers and dealerships are turning to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to give buyers a “digital test drive experience.” AR and VR technologies allow you to experience 360-degree views of a vehicle’s exterior and interior… and that’s just the beginning. New technologies are allowing dealerships to give consumers a 360-degree, virtual test drive like this one for the 2020 F-150 created by FlowFound that is part of Krieger Ford’s online shopping experience. Manufacturers are also embracing AR and VR. Porsche incorporates an extensive VR experience on its website. Other manufacturers have created fun ways for consumers to interact with their brands.  Audi’s Enter Sandbox allowed consumers to take an Audi for a test spin in a virtual sandbox. BMW took it even further by letting enthusiasts take an X3 for a test drive on Mars.

Are they real, looking-over-that-long-hood test drives? No. Are they really cool? Absolutely.

If you think about it, the test drive is a customer engagement tool. It’s way to create excitement about the purchase. AR and VR experiences on your virtual showroom serve the same purpose. They inform, create excitement and keep customers engaged. The longer the customer stays engaged, the further down the sales funnel they go and the more likely they are to make a purchase.

Be ready to give your customers their choice of worlds – real or virtual – when the time comes to take a test drive.

Thoughts? Comments? Test drive story? Let me hear them.

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