From dealerships to digital whips: How car buying is evolving with Volkswagen

Over the past year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an impetus for a virtual revolution across all industries. More than ever before, Americans find themselves not only working and socializing online but making major purchases as well. As clothing, electronics and furniture sales are adapting to a virtual society, so are car sales.

This shift coincides with an influx of new and potential car buyers, needing alternatives to public transportation, returning to work or commuting for a new job. Today, car buying has – and will continue to – transform to meet a growing virtual demand. A perfect example is the unique approach behind the ID.4, Volkswagen’s new, all-electric SUV.

Since the start of the new year, Americans have explored and purchased the Volkswagen ID.4 EV in modern and cutting-edge ways. Pinterest, a site where people are typically inspired to buy items, soon became a place where people could also experience them with the introduction of an interactive driving simulation Volkswagen launched on the platform. This 360-degree view provided car buyers the ability to virtually test drive the ID.4 and subsequently make informed purchasing decisions – all from the comfort of their homes.

“While life as we knew it rapidly changed, our customers still needed vehicles that delivered a fun and satisfying driving experience,” said Hein Schafer, senior vice president of product marketing and strategy at Volkswagen. “It was a trying time for everyone, but we saw an opportunity to reimagine the car buying experience to match the real-world demands of customers.”

Car buyers, enthusiasts and dealers once convened at public auto shows to present new and classic cars, but as the ID.4 debuted during the height of the pandemic, there needed to be an alternative way to introduce it to the public. In December 2020, Volkswagen launched a virtual, augmented reality (AR) showroom that brought auto shows into the homes of car buyers. Now, potential customers can visualize the VW ID.4 EV in their driveway or garage and scrutinize it from almost any angle.

On the heels of creating two experimental ways of digitalizing the car buying experience, Volkswagen also sought to revamp the administrative side of things. Volkswagen Credit was the first in the industry to work with a major dealer service provider to implement remote contracting tools such as Sign Anywhere. These tools reimagine the financing process and allow consumers to securely fill out paperwork and sign on the dotted line from anywhere – on a mobile device or computer – instead of stepping inside a dealership.

Meanwhile, showrooms will continue to adapt and integrate new virtual platforms into their existing structures. “We know that, for many customers, testing everything – from visibility to dashboard layout – is a crucial aspect of the car buying process,” says Schafer. “That’s why we leveraged tools like AR and 360-degree panoramas to provide car buyers with as realistic of testing and viewing experiences as digitally possible.”

As Americans advocate to maintain the newfound convenience and accessibility that comes with an increasingly digital landscape, the future of car buying is clear. We can expect Volkswagen, along with our dealers and the broader automobile industry, to continue to push the envelope by seeking and executing new ways to leverage virtual tools to modernize everyday tasks.

“We strive to continuously move with the needs of car buyers,” says Schafer. “As the challenges presented over the past year required industry innovation, we met customers with novel and engaging approaches to car buying that will only expand in the future.”