Forget the dealership: Vroom wants you to browse cars in virtual reality

Buying a car is supposed to be an exciting and fun experience, but once you’ve hit the fourth dealership it can get pretty tiring. What if you could eliminate a few of your choices without ever having to step inside a physical showroom? Vroom, the online car retailer, wants to help with 2016’s hottest trend — virtual reality.

That’s right, even car retailers are jumping on the virtual reality bandwagon. It seems like the right step forward, though — why waste time driving around to several dealerships, especially if you have a fairly large set of cars you’re interested in? With Vroom’s VR showroom, you’ll hopefully be able to narrow your search down a little.

There’s no headset to buy — Vroom’s VR showroom is purely an application that works with the HTC Vive. Even if you have the Vive, right now you’ll only be able to access the showroom, ironically, at set locations in Houston, Dallas, and at pop-up spots in the Phoenix area. More locations are planned for the future.

The demo you’ll be able to test at the aforementioned locations isn’t the final version, as there are features and categories that have yet to be added. For example, the final version will house seven categories such as Luxury SUVs, Luxury Sedans, and Pickup Trucks — that comes out to about 300 makes and 1,600 individual cars. The initial launch version only lets you browse through Vroom’s Affordable Performance category. Still, it’s packed with 15 different makes and models with a price range between $25,000 to $60,000.

We got to test it out, and the experience was merely acceptable. Again, the main need for visiting this VR showroom would be to try and eliminate a few cars in your list — you shouldn’t use it for your final picks.

When you first enter the showroom, you’ll find yourself standing in rows of cars. Navigate through the space and menus by staring at fixed points — for example, you can stare at a door to enter a car. Once inside, you’ll be able to look around in a full 360-angle. Descriptions will pop up, such as when you look at the seats — it will tell you if they’re made of leather or something else. What’s neat is that you can favorite a car and Vroom will email your list at the end of your session. But our biggest issue is that the image quality isn’t great — it was hard to see details across the center console. It was hard to feel that we were in the car, because the quality was too low.

There’s also an option to start a “test drive,” which essentially launches a first-person video that envelopes the windshield and windows around you. It simulates the car driving on the road — this does absolutely nothing for anyone, but each vehicle has its engine sound looped in so you get a feel of what the car sounds like when it drives. If that plays a big part in your decision, then it may be helpful.

There’s a lot more that could have been done better to add a more realistic feel — but Vroom has to start with better quality so people can feel as though they’re actually entering a new car. There’s more on the way, though. The company is working on version 2.0 which would allow people to use the Vive controllers to open the car doors, and do more. We’ll likely see version 2.0 sometime early next year.

One day the experience may get so seamless that we’ll start buying cars in VR — Vroom’s attempt is a start, but it has a long way to go if it wants people to attempt something like that.

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