In recent years, several augmented-reality applications have surfaced as an aid to boost auto sales. But many have been limited in terms of serving as a truly effective sales tool.

This is changing, as it must if automakers and dealers are to compete in a car market that increasingly is digitally driven.

Today, next-generation AR technologies, such as Google’s Tango and Microsoft’s HoloLens are enhancing the showroom/car-buying experience by enabling consumers to view and interact with photo-realistic and virtual life-size cars and trucks on their mobile devices. 

The latest AR apps allow consumers to project, configure and experience vehicles of interest anytime, anywhere. It is an immersive digital experience that is nothing short of a revolution in an industry still largely rooted in physical product experiences and in need of such capabilities to compete with the growing number of digital disrupters vying for the same customer. 

This new technology also has arrived at a time when bridging gaps between the Internet and the showroom is becoming ever-more important to consumers as they increasingly use the web as part of their car-buying experience. 

Car-buyers surveyed in the U.S., Germany and China want a seamless integrated experience between auto websites, other digital channels and the showroom, according to Accenture research.

Moreover, two-thirds of surveyed car-buyers would consider buying a car completely online if possible. That underscores the growing influence digital technology is having on car-buying.

But perhaps most important is that the adoption of this latest AR technology is making it possible for traditional auto retailing and the digital world to finally merge in a way that can more effectively meet the changing needs of the emerging digital customer.

It also can help auto manufacturers and dealers sustain success in a market that will be vulnerable to digital disruption for the foreseeable future. This shift is manifesting itself in new AR launches by auto companies such as BMW and Jeep.

BMW, for example, recently introduced the BMWi Visualizer that Accenture developed. The app enables smartphones and tablet users to virtually experience exterior and interior aspects of BMW’s i3 and i8 models. 

People can choose which model they wish to view and interact with it, selecting a range of options, such as exterior colors and wheels. Users can make changes to upholstery colors and the dashboard with a tap on their device screen. They also can use the app to turn on the vehicle’s radio and listen to music, as well as turn on the lights and hear the engine sounds.

Jeep has launched an innovative customer experience with its all-new Compass, using an augmented reality experience developed by Accenture. 

With use of the mobile application, the Jeep Compass Visualizer, customers can now experience the look and feel of the interior.

Both BMW and Jeep apps are developed on Tango, Google’s smartphone AR technology, allowing the user to replicate the way in which they would interact with a physical car, inside and out. 

A Tango-enabled device has a 360-degree view, meaning, as it moves, it navigates and views the changing environment in the same way as a person would.  This provides a realistic and intuitive experience for the user and demonstrates an immersive AR experience without requiring GPS or Internet connectivity.

AR apps have evolved into powerful digital platforms that support and complement the showroom experience. Interested car shoppers now have the option of experiencing and configuring their ideal car before visiting the dealership – visualizing and configuring it in preferred settings, such as in front of their garage. 

Accenture has taken this a step further, enabling personalized marketing for car buyers, where a configured car can be dropped into a promotional video, using the location that matches a consumer’s preferences.

Even before they enter a dealership, customers can be sent a video of their chosen configured vehicle on, say, a beach road, or in a night-time urban environment.

Dealers are now able to use the latest AR apps to showcase versions of vehicles not in stock in the precise configuration their customers want it, setting the stage for a potential future sale.

The setup will be able to gather digital data from their customer’s pre-visit research, providing the dealer with pertinent customer information that can make the sales process more efficient.

This next generation of augmented reality technology will provide an immersive, content-rich and smoother customer experience that bridges the gap between the Internet and the showroom. 

Anant Kamat and Christina Raab are managing directors in Accenture’s Automotive Practice. They can be reached at anant.kamat@accenture.com and christina.raab@accenture.com.