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Mixed reality technologies could someday change the way we all choose, configure, and buy our cars. It’s an exciting new paradigm that forward-thinking auto makers like Volvo Cars are exploring today, and could take the entire auto experience—from pre-sales to ownership—down an exciting road for consumers.

Last week at a demonstration event in Redmond, WA, Microsoft and Volvo Cars showed off how mixed reality technology could be used to allow customers to visualize and configure a new car in three dimensions using Microsoft HoloLens, the first fully untethered, see-through holographic computer that enables high-definition holograms to come to life, seamlessly integrating with physical places, spaces, and things.

Volvo-Cars-Microsoft-HoloLens-experience_300X200Through the rich and immersive HoloLens experience, Volvo Cars customers could have the ability to not only see, but truly feel, what it would be like to choose the type of car they want—even before the car has been built and launched—experiencing different colors, configurations and options. Customers could also get a better understanding of car features, services and options available. To bring this concept to life, Volvo Cars used HoloLens to give event attendees a mixed-reality preview of its new S90 premium sedan, a car that has not even been built yet. Customers can experience the Volvo S90 in person at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2016.

The road to disruption

This demonstration shows how today’s advanced technologies can disrupt even the oldest of industries. From connected cars with Delphi Automotive, to the recent innovations with electric car charging with ABB, everything about the car is changing—and the customer experience is top priority. And that experience starts very early on in the buying process. Our research shows that two-thirds of car buying activities happen before anyone sets foot in a dealership, as more and more customers look to an online buying experience. For global automakers and dealers to effectively compete in today’s digital world, they need to transform their business models to enable an end-to-end, rich customer experience.

Technology puts the customer in the driver seat

Volvo Cars is taking a step forward in transforming that customer experience by discovering original ways for people to interact with a variety of vehicles—both from inside and outside of the car. Drivers would not only be able to see things in a mixed reality setting, but could also interact with the car very early on in the buying process. By using innovative technologies like HoloLens, Volvo Cars dealers could bring the car-buying experience to the consumer, wherever they are. For example, this kind of engaging experience could happen in a small pop-up store at a shopping mall or a busy entertainment venue. Technology is once again transforming the traditional sales environment, changing how and where we could buy cars in the future. We are already seeing early examples of this, including what Infiniti retail group UK is doing to create a unique way to bring the Infiniti sales and service experience closer to its customers with Microsoft’s Surface 3 – not from a traditional car dealership, but in a convenient retail environment.

Volvo 4_300X200Leveraging HoloLens could also be a dynamic way for Volvo Cars to potentially increase the impact of its brand by taking customers on an exciting adventure, putting them in the heart of the action throughout a completely different kind of buying journey. This captivating interaction with the car provides a much richer experience in terms of consumer understanding and getting close to the product. It’s all about a connection with the brand in a way that is exceptional within the automotive industry. So by the time the customer is ready to buy, they have already had a thorough and personal interaction with not only the car, but Volvo Cars itself.

The ability to sell in this way could also allow Volvo Cars to reach a new set of customers—the digitally connected consumer who demands more from makers and their products and services. It’s about enabling manufacturers to break through all the noise of traditional marketing and sales avenues to reach their customers in fresh and exciting ways—bringing the test drive to the consumer. It’s also a way for Volvo Cars to easily show off their cars to those who might not take the time for a test drive, opening up the car-buying experience to a larger potential audience.

The next era of automotive innovation

Moving forward, we are also exploring possible future areas of collaboration with Volvo Cars, including how to combine best-in-class engineering with powerful predictive analytics, machine learning, and the utilization of data to enable autonomous driving scenarios. We may also look at ways to see how information gathered by cars and their users might be used to enhance the driving experience and improve safety.

Our exploration with Volvo Cars and HoloLens could ultimately provide an opportunity to reinvent the end-to-end car buying and ownership experience in a way that is personal and truly connected—the next era of automotive innovation. And that is what today’s connected consumers have come to expect.

Learn more here and watch the video.

LinkedIn: Sanjay Ravi

Twitter: @sanrav