Virtual cars don’t replace clay models, but rather augment the design and sales processes in ways never before possible. Clay models have been a staple of the auto industry for decades, with good reason—there’s nothing like being able to envision the physical vehicle, to run your hand along its lines. But clay models are one-offs with limited use, whereas virtual models can provide unlimited options at every phase of manufacturing, including sales.

Through a VR experience of a digital car, a customer can gain insights in a way that clay models can’t provide. They can take a virtual drive through the streets of a busy city or the tree-lined lanes of the countryside. They can check out the level of visibility through the windshield, press buttons on the console, adjust the rearview mirror, and even change the radio station.

And best of all, with VR, the time from design to sales can be greatly reduced. Customer feedback gained at the design phase gives you the ability to dream up and try out different options in the virtual space, long before committing to engineering work on implementation.

Burak Soehmelioglu of BMW Group, for example, finds that with VR experiences, the entry level for non-experts is much lower. Anyone can enter the experience—anyone from engineers to salespeople, and even customers—and tell the designers what they think.

Such experiences are made possible with real-time rendering in Unreal Engine. While it was initially developed as a game engine, the quality of Unreal Engine’s real-time graphics now approaches that of offline renderers, making it a viable tool for collaborative design, configurators in the showroom, and promotional media.

Unreal Engine also includes tools for “gamifying” a presentation, with clickable options and logic-driven programming that can create just about any kind of virtual automotive experience.

On October 20, BMW Group and Ferrari will be getting together on video series The Pulse for a discussion on virtual cars and digital IP, with a live Q&A afterward. The Pulse is hosted by Epic Games, the creators of Unreal Engine. 

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