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In the time of BC (before CoViD-19), the “virtual tour” of the car dealership showroom was just a mere techie “come on” that enhanced marketing and sales efforts, ultimately enticing prospective customers to make that actual visit and come out with the purchase.

Now, in the first couple of months of the pandemic, the virtual tour has become the main media and public event for the automotive industry. One could say CoViD-19, in a way, has floored the acceleration pedal of the evolution of the “virtual presser”.  Some time back, they said VR (virtual reality) was the future. It looks like that future is now.

As early as 2016, the industry caught a glimpse of a VR launch as Jaguar’s first electric concept car, the I-PACE, was unveiled in what its organizers called “the car showroom of the future: Virtual Reality”. It was described as a first-of-its-kind, fully immersive, 4D social virtual reality experience, taking guests on an exhilarating simulated ride in the Jaguar i-TYPE. The car was unveiled simultaneously in Los Angeles and London to 66 exclusive guests wearing VR headsets.

Though the vast majority of us aren’t wearing those fancy headsets yet, we’re making do with laptops and smartphones that could still receive and transmit high-definition videos and clear audio on often sufficient data streaming speeds (though that still can use a lot of improvement). What is clear now is that, for the foreseeable future, the virtual or online automotive event is the name of the new game.

This is also how the business end of the car companies are planning to do things. Car sales agents are already being trained to conduct online selling. For the past couple of months, executives of leading car companies have been engaged in Zoom meetings (or in other video conferencing apps such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Bluejeans and Viber).

Froilan G. Dytianquin, general manager of Geely Philippines’ sales and marketing division, said, “The pandemic has really changed the way we do things, and as you may have heard, these changes constitute the new normal – from the conventional and customary means to the unfamiliar or exceptional”.

Dytianquin’s team has been scheduled to provide the media a preview of its Geely Azkarra mild hybrid compact crossover tomorrow, May 28, on its website, as well as a public viewing on May 30 in its Facebook page.

“Virtual launches and press cons may be unfamiliar and exceptional, but in my opinion they may have an even greater impact as the actual thing. This way, you also tend to engage with more people who are interested in your products and want to watch the event,” he said.

Dytianquin even goes as far as saying that online broadcast and selling may even be more effective.

“Let’s say if there were no restrictions and we were allowed to do an actual launch in Metro Manila, our buyers in other areas, provinces may not be able to react to our new product because they did not see the launch. Online broadcasts will enable you to reach more people, and by the fact that social media is very active, you get immediate reactions, good or bad. Of course, may I say also that there is much advantage in terms of efficiency in investments per reach, as you don’t have to spend as much, taking away huge production costs, venue rental etc,” he stressed.

In a time when being physically present to an event could be next to impossible, being in a virtual launch can be the next best thing. “Buying a car is an ‘experiential’ thing. Buyers need to see, inspect and test drive the cars they intend to buy. We need to involve most of our senses and emotion to justify the purchase.”

No choice

Willy Tee Ten, Philippine Automotive Dealers Association (Pada) president, has also weighed in on the practicality of doing virtual car launches.

“We have no choice. If we do launches like the those pre CoViD-19, only a handful would attend, and this would be extremely painful (financially) to the manufacturer/distributor. The public might not be used to virtual launches now, but that’s the only choice we have. The challenge now is how to make virtual launches exciting to both the public and to the media,” said Tee Ten.

“Those that are interested will then contact their dealers either through their website or through their Facebook page. From there, dealers should use their imagination on how to convince the buyer to purchase the vehicle,” he added.

Tey Sornet, Pada director and LICA auto group’s chief operating officer, said: “With this new normal, virtual car launches seem to be the only way distributors can communicate their new vehicles to the motoring scribes and the public.”

“Virtual car launches can deliver the content and message to the audience, but it must be done in a way that can still deliver the element of excitement without the audience touching the real vehicle. The customers’ purchase consideration is greatly influenced by reviews of motoring scribes, learning about the model online, brand image, etc. How a vehicle is launched online is important, since it generates your initial online presence that will affect the familiarity with the product and builds the desire to approach dealers to get to the next step,” said Sornet.

“On the other side, online platforms like Zoom have proven beneficial for running our day-to-day operations in this new normal. It helps management get in touch with the teams remotely, discuss situations and manage the business without the loss of travel time, and save on transportation cost,” he added.

Car dealer Cora Jacinto said: “That will be the trend now. We have no choice as of now. I find these Zoom meetings effective in addition to being economical. The target market of the automotive industry can afford to have good internet connection and applications, anyway.”

Jacinto said that her team will enhance the group’s “virtual selling capabilities”.

Dytianquin disclosed that even before the pandemic, car dealers in other countries were able to tap online selling and “have the car delivered right to your doorstep”.  He cited Geely’s example in China. “Geely is able to deliver the car to your place and have the keys sent by drone for that real contactless delivery.”

Sornet observed: “During the past couple of months, it has been proven that Filipinos have started to accept buying online. On our side, we have adapted to this by strengthening our online presence. Our team is available to reply to any customer inquiry round the clock, providing vehicle information by email, we employ virtual sales consultants doing six-point presentations showing all features of the vehicles online, and we keep our customers engaged by continuously providing relevant content.  We have recently seen a lot of customers paying their reservation fees online, which rarely happened before ECQ.”