Audi City - real virtual stores
The first Audi City opened in mid-2012 right in the heart of London – the Company’s first venture into a new, innovative sales format. The Audi City is a space in which customers can experience and configure cars and their equipment with the help of virtual technologies, but it also hosts events and meetings.
There is a lot happening on Piccadilly Street in London’s Mayfair. There is no break in the colorful stream of people on the broad sidewalk. Londoners are enjoying the sun on this late summer day and the tourists are making the most of this unexpectedly good weather. Behind the vast showroom window, an Audi RS 4 Avant in pearlescent Sepang blue is performing a slow-motion pirouette. Every detail can be admired from every angle – like the Singleframe grille with honeycomb mesh in high-gloss anthracite. The side profile provides a particularly good perspective of the high-performance station wagon. But the car is not real; it is displayed on a video wall 2.67 meters high and 4.60 meters wide. For a moment, its more than two million pixels blur the boundaries between the real and the virtual world. With his fingertip, James Duggan opens the tailgate and takes look inside the car. He seems satisfied and closes it again. Moments later, the rich tone of the engine can be heard and the RS 4 Avant drives off in a sweeping arc.
James Duggan works in a London attorney’s office. Since ordering his own RS 4 Avant two months ago, the Sussex man has been happily spending his lunch break visiting Audi City. “I think it’s great that I can come here every day to admire my future car in 1:1 scale, and even hear it.” This is a wonderful way to spend the waiting time until delivery in just a few weeks. Audi has been presenting its entire model lineup just a few blocks from Piccadilly Circus since July 2012. By applying an all-new concept, 420 square meters of showroom space on two floors is more than enough room – all vehicle configurations can be presented on the floor-to-ceiling powerwalls completely realistically and in all available colors – on video walls measuring a total of around 50 square meters.
This is how Audi City is turning car buying into an experience, even before the first test drive. Under the guidance of specially trained employees, visitors can configure their dream car by themselves. Tables with large, touch-sensitive screens show the full diversity of the Audi world in HD quality. Just like on a tablet PC, the customer uses finger gestures to surf the menus and find out about all the available functions and features. A single hand movement is all it takes to transfer the vehicle to the powerwall, where it can then be appreciated in almost 1:1 scale. Thanks to an ingenious dynamic acoustic system with a 40,000 watt system output, the sounds in front of each video wall match the selected car and the content on display – engine sound, special music, spoken information. “And if there is no customer active in front of a powerwall,” explains Audi City employee Romain Nogues, “you hear background music to suit that particular time of day.” He picks up a touch tablet and strokes his index finger across the screen. “I can use this from wherever I am to change the virtual surroundings by controlling volume and lighting.” The atmospheric music that was playing everywhere just a few moments ago begins to fade.
Omar Istalifi seems not to notice. The visitor is concentrating fully on the details of the Audi configurator displayed on the touch table in front of him. He is busy equipping an Audi TT Roadster with the S Line package. His two friends, Kai and Oliver, are watching every single step closely and offering tips: “Wouldn’t you rather have the 18-inch wheels?” Omar wrinkles his forehead, as he prefers the five-spoke design he already selected. The three young men work together at a software development company and are visiting Audi City for the first time. “We heard about it on the Internet and wanted to take a look at it for ourselves,” says Omar, who could see himself dropping by the “virtual car dealership” more often. “The technologies here are definitely impressive.”
The nerve center of Audi City is in a former industrial hall in Ingolstadt, where the project management is also located. “We have been working all-out on this project for more than two years,” says Thomas Zuchtriegel looking back at the time before it all began. What makes the system so special are its comprehensiveness and detail accuracy across the different Audi models. “There are currently around 900 Gigabytes of data on our servers. That equates to around 20 to 30 Gigabytes per model.” As soon as a new model or a new variant celebrates its premiere, updated data is transmitted online from Ingolstadt to the Audi City locations and loaded onto the powerful local servers. “For visitors, the concept is intended to be self-explanatory and child’s play to use,” says Zuchtriegel. But it is no mean feat. “We have invested a huge amount of time in this.” There are often more than 50 programmers working on it at once in the Ingolstadt-based test laboratory. “In order to carry out comprehensive testing prior to the facility opening, we built a complete prototype here in Ingolstadt – powerwalls and touch tables inclusive.”
A similar level of hi-tech is behind the scenes in London, too. The uninterrupted distribution of video signals runs via fiber optics – more than one hundred channels can be controlled individually. The specialist software for professional presentation and 3D imaging comes from Ventuz. Every one of the powerwalls and each of the seven multi-touch tables needs its own powerful computer. “We laid around 35 kilometers of cable in London – and in such a way as to ensure the visitors can’t see any of it.” The man speaking knows the space on Piccadilly Street better than anyone. Project Leader Hans Joachim Thurner has been responsible for Audi City from the start. “Together with English and German colleagues, we laid the technical groundwork in London for a smooth-running operation.”
“London was just the beginning,” explains Thomas Zuchtriegel. “Audi City has recently gone online in Beijing with a video wall surface of more than 90 square meters.” And powerwalls and touch tables have also already entered service at the classic Audi dealership in Dubai. More dealerships are set to follow. In London, Audi City is gearing up for a special moment this evening. In a vehicle handover area separated from the main area by a sliding door, an Audi R8 GT Spyder is awaiting delivery – an absolutely reallife car this time. In just a few moments, the limited-edition super sports car will be picked up, and sales executive Martin Roberts is taking personal care of the final details. “The registration plates are fitted and the tank is full.” The customer, who fell in love with the R8 GT Spyder just a few days previously at Audi City, would like to drive it home today via the M1. At 5.00 p.m. on the dot, four Audi City employees dressed in neon-colored safety vests lay two ramps across the sidewalk and cordon them off. Passers-by stand still and watch the unusual spectacle unfolding in the heart of the city. Just a few days ago, the R8 GT Spyder was still a virtual 3D model on one of the four floor-to-ceiling video walls. Now the car engraved with the number 231 (of 333) rolls slowly out of the building. And the sound of the V10 is most definitely real this time.