THE WEEK - The phone will introduce you to your car, sir

By Graeme Roberts | 10 June 2016

SEATs virtual reality new car handover

SEAT's virtual reality new car handover

Like almost every other aspect of the autobiz, the retailing and service side is changing. Tesla has gone to war in the US to end the cosy manufacturer/dealer relationships and sell direct to the end user. Extensive consolidation into massive dealer groups has taken place worldwide (RIP most 'mom 'n' pop' shops) and almost all outlets these days - even in my small town - seem to be big, smart, glass and chrome edifices populated by sales staff toting tablets and electronics-savvy 'technicians' in place of the grease-stained 'mechanic' of yore. Handover of the new car has also changed - how about a virtual reality presentation?

This week, Volkswagen's SEAT brand said it had conducted a "virtual handover" of over 100 new Leons to a large fleet customer. The automaker also said the operation gives a strong indication of how technology could be used to enhance the delivery experience of cars to the next generation of connected drivers. Using a personalised video deployed via a VR Gear headset and a Samsung S7 smartphone, 129 new hatchbacks were presented to drivers who will use the cars for field work with a retail marketing agency. The virtual handover covered all of the car's features, from operating the major controls to the in-car technology including the latest system, ensuring a comprehensive handover through a visual medium that can be watched again if necessary. SEAT noted the innovation substantially reduced the time required to deliver the vehicles. Unsurprisingly, this story attracted a lot of attention from just-auto readers but I wonder how older, and more traditional, buyers might react to finding out where the headlight switch is from a cellphone with a 3D viewer.

Also this week: news of Ford's latest new Ka, the Ka+, now with five doors (and a saloon boot in some markets). The automaker has also launched a new ST-lite trim level called ST-line, initially for Fiesta and Focus.

We've been out and about lately, including the SMMT Open Forum conference in Birmingham where editor Dave Leggett spoke to Aston Martin chief Andy Palmer about the extension of the brand's range and how adding a luxury crossover will transform the business model following the replacement of the ageing sports car range. Also at the conference: the supply chain's aim to get local content in British-made cars up to 60%. Cue Dave again for comprehensive background and analysis of why that may not be too easy.

Meanwhile, our supply chain expert, SImon Warburton, has been further afield, in major Chinese automaking town Chongqing, for the Global Automotive Forum (GAF). The Chinese appear to have done everything possible to disrupt comms (no Google; intermittent email and text messaging) but, eventually, the carrier pigeons got through with a variety of reports that show that growth is slowing but still there (Daimler), individual purchases will still dominate for some time to come despite the advent of new ways of acquiring the use of automobiles (GM), "lead or be knocked out" (Changan), recent growth rates of around 6% will become the established benchmark for the near future (government committee), supplier and automaker consolidation is inevitable (Lear and Dana), EV growth will challenge suppliers (Magna) and innovation is crucial to winning in China (Valeo). And there's more thoughts from Magna here and here.

Even better, our slice-of-Warburton has had time for a little well-deserved time out. The latest despatch: a photo of Our Man in China helping the locals make glutinous rice balls. As you do. He's on lunch duty next week...

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com