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Future Of The Auto Salesroom And How To Sell Cars To Millennials

The technician points his smartphone to a blank space and a car interior appears on the screen. We virtually enter, altering the seat color and dashboard finish. At the adjoining exhibit, I wear a virtual reality head-set and 'boom', I am transported to another universe. This time I examine my desired car on location in a city center, step inside to once again play with the color palette, then step out to find myself by the seaside. An email shortly lands in my In Box linking me to a personalized web page featuring the car I’ve just virtually configured on a road trip. My next stop, according to this choreographed shopping spree, is to walk into an actual showroom where facial recognition would lead to an even more personalized purchase. Welcome to the future of car buying.

This, according to the exhibitor Accenture at the Millennial 20/20 summit in London last week, is the car buying journey of this generation and the following centennials. Admittedly, both the augmented reality technology at the start of my purchase and the VR are a little clunky, but the reality is, for the digital generation it will feel natural, making car buying easier, less troublesome, more informative, personal and an experience. For the generation we call the millennials, the journey is as important as the end transaction.

The auto rule book is changing. Electric and autonomous driving, connective technology and car ownership is challenging how car companies connect with customers. The younger generation is less concerned with car ownership than their parents – happy to share and enjoy the freedom of car-sharing schemes. Good news for the planet; not such great news for car manufacturers.

Joseph Seal-Driver is a great example of this demographic group. The 33-year old director of car sharing scheme DriveNow UK lives in the heart of London with his girlfriend and doesn’t own a personal vehicle. He says he will buy one once they move to the suburbs to start a family. Crucially, he will stay loyal to the brand offered by whatever car sharing scheme he used in his youth – in his case with DriveNow, a MINI and perhaps later a BMW. “We are reaching out to future purchasers and influencing their decisions,” he says confidently.

So, it seems, the purchase will happen, but at a later stage in life for the millennial generation. It also transpires that despite the digital element of shopping, feeling at one with a brand, its outlook and values is essential to a purchase. So, the auto showroom experience remains critical but needs to be more experience-led.

These sentiments were echoed in another conference I attended recently. Vision: Future Retail in Amsterdam saw various professionals from architecture to automotive and fashion discuss and debate this topic with conviction. The reality is that most industries are concerned with how we connect and consume products. Founder of the radical Dutch practice Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) Rem Koolhaas believes that access is replacing the physical - we are still buying products but for very different reasons. He said at the conference that experience is our new status symbol and it is having a profound impact on how many of us shop.

BMW showroom in Amsterdam is a relaxed space for customers to get to know the products in a non-sales environment

OMA work closely with brands to create exciting retail environments including the Prada flagship store in New York and more recently KaDeWe in Berlin, Repossi and Boulevard Haussmann in Paris and the Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice. Collectively they are not only making strong architectural statements but are also expanding the customer retail experience into an urban architecture experience. They envisage retail as part of your city wonder.

The discussions in Amsterdam centered on the retail