Jason Collins

Jason Collins

ZeroLight is the new visualisation partner to Audi AG. Matthew Beecham caught up with the real-time 3D visualisation specialist's marketing director, Jason Collins, to discuss the game-changing technology, its potential impact on the evolving marketplace and why the automotive industry is already sitting up and taking notice.

ZeroLight seems to have emerged as a serious player in the automotive visualisation scene very quickly - how has that been possible?

It has been a rapid journey into and through the auto industry for ZeroLight made possible because we're bringing new technologies and ideas to the sector that has allowed us to offer something unique to car manufacturers.

We've brought a new way to think about car configurators and customer experiences with virtual cars.  That fundamental difference is that ZeroLight is a software-led solution rather than an asset-led solution.  Whereas last-generation car configurators used a large quantity of individual pictures of cars composited together with rudimentary software, ZeroLight uses very advanced software and few individual assets.  Fundamentally it's the difference between looking at photos and you holding the camera. There are lots of benefits to this for the car manufacturer and the customer, but fundamentally it means a richer, more interactive and more engaging experience.

We describe the ZeroLight car configurator as being a "live 3D scene".  That's because in our solution a virtual 3D car exists in a virtual 3D environment and the customer is, in effect, handed the camera with the freedom to explore the live 3D scene however they like.  Since customers can select from any configuration and option for the virtual car, ZeroLight enables them to see the exact car that they are going to purchase.

Our underlying software has its roots in the technology and techniques that were developed in the games industry creating racing games.  It's this fresh thinking and the application of technology developed in another industry to the automotive sector that has allowed us to gain such traction.

What does a typical ZeroLight installation look like?

There are only three components to a ZeroLight car configurator for a dealership; the display, the input and the PC.  The display is simply the screen where the customer can see their virtual car while they are exploring and configuring it. This can be as straight forward as a mass-market size 4K UltraHD or HD screen all the way up to very large format projectors or multi-panel video walls where the car can appear life-size.  Outside of traditional screen formats, ZeroLight supports a variety of cutting edge and emerging displays including virtual reality headsets and devices capable of showing augmented reality.

The input is the device where the customer selects from customisation options, uses interactive features and controls their view around the car in ZeroLight's live 3D scene. The input device is most commonly a tablet or a touch screen device but through our projects we've implemented a variety of technologies including gesture control like Microsoft Kinect, game pad controllers and virtual reality input devices. For a touch table or a touch screen kiosk for example, the device functions as both the display, and the input.

And finally an installation requires a PC with ZeroLight software installed on it.  ZeroLight car configurator software is highly optimised and so the PC required to run it is affordable for any dealership to include as part of their showroom.

The ease and flexibility of the ZeroLight solution is very appealing to OEMs, who generally need a flexible solution to cater for the many different sizes, shapes and designs found across their dealership network.  Flexibility with the display, the input and an affordable PC to run ZeroLight software mean that a form factor, size and set up can be found for any dealer regardless of the showroom's dimensions or floorplan.

Given the flexibility of the ZeroLight solution, are you causing change in the dealership network?

ZeroLight is causing great positive change in dealership networks.  With the ZeroLight 3D car configurator we are giving OEM's and their dealership network a way to digitise their showrooms and expand their footprint to new areas like shopping centres and high streets.

Customers have rightly come to expect engaging, experiential retail when making purchases - especially a new car, which is commonly the second most expensive purchase of their lives. The ZeroLight 3D car configurator allows any dealership to deliver this for their customers.  It's engaging, digital, experiential and fundamentally allows them to strengthen their offering to customers.  An improvement like this is causing positive change in the dealership network.

As well as digitising existing showrooms ZeroLight offers new opportunities for OEMs and dealerships to reach customers in new areas - such as on the high street and in shopping centres.  With ZeroLight, opening digital format stores is a viable sales and marketing strategy that allows them to use smaller retail units to capitalise on high footfall shopping locations.

Customers have come to expect easy access to information and products; even cars.  One-stop-shopping, on the high street and in shopping centres, is how many customers want to explore and buy cars. Satisfying that demand with new digital format stores as part of the dealership network is part of that positive change for the dealership network and an opportunity for OEMs and dealerships alike to make the most of.

How does ZeroLight help dealers and OEMs sell more cars, or higher spec cars?

The ZeroLight 3D car configurator can be a highly effective sales tool that can help dealers and OEMs sell more cars and higher spec models, options and add-ons.  Just as importantly though, it's a tool to help the customer on their buying journey, helping them to make informed decisions and to match a car to their needs and tastes before purchase.

As part of the car buying journey, using a ZeroLight 3D car configurator is a highly engaging solution that can drive footfall into dealerships and stores and increase dwell time once they're in there.  As two key metrics for any dealer, improving them simply gives them more opportunity to generate leads and capitalise on a customer's interest.

The engaging 3D digital experience, the enhanced ability to explore the car's attributes and selling points using interactive features, and customising the car to suit their needs and tastes, can all lead to increased conversion to test-drive and sale simply by virtue of the increased engagement and understanding of the car.

Likewise, the dealer's enhanced capability to demonstrate and explain the benefits of options and add-ons, be they the visual benefit or their utility, puts them in a much stronger position to up-sell and help customers make informed choices about their new car purchase.

As we understand it, 97 percent of new car purchasers go online as part of their buying journey.  Does ZeroLight have plans to enter the online configurator market?

Yes definitely. OEM websites are a critically important source of information for a lot of customers on their car buying journey and we believe that we can revolutionise the experience.  Customers and OEMs alike want the website to be the best possible destination to discover, explore and customise the car that they're thinking of buying.  We've invested heavily to help us create the next generation of online car configurator that does just that - re-instates the OEM website as the online destination to learn about and engage with the car.  There will be a lot more to share in the future about how we're integrating our solutions with the online parts of the customer car buying journey.

What's next for ZeroLight?

We always have two focuses at ZeroLight - delivering on projects and investing in R&D.  We are very delivery focussed and have recruited heavily to keep up with demand for our solutions.   We are working on a number of public and unannounced projects and delivering these is our priority.

Investing in R&D is how we came to be a market leader in real-time 3D visualisation applications like our 3D car configurator solution - and it's how we'll continue to extend that lead. With that in mind, R&D is a key part of our business and continuing to refine our solutions and develop new ones is a big part of our short and long term future.

Auto market intelligence
from just-auto

• Auto component fitment forecasts
• OEM & tier 1 profiles & factory finder
• Analysis of 30+ auto technologies & more