ZeroLight, AWS, and Lucid create a whole new way to buy cars
It’s no secret that these are difficult times for the automotive industry. The impact of COVID-19 has sent devastating shockwaves through the sector. Face-to-face sales have become more difficult than ever, and major tradeshows are no longer viable ways to launch a new car. But are these challenges totally new?
The automotive shopping journey has evolved
We believe there is an underlying theme here: a need for a more comprehensive digitalization strategy. The pandemic has certainly been an accelerant, but the challenges above highlight issues that have been building for years. Tradeshows are a shadow of their former selves: both brand and media presence were in decline long before the shows were forced to close their doors. A similar story is true in retail. Car-buyers – especially from younger generations – are increasingly unhappy with the automotive purchase experience. As the world becomes more technologically advanced, expectations are changing across the board, and customers want slicker experiences, with more control, engagement, and personalization throughout. While it was once the gold standard of luxury retail, the car-buying experience no longer even meets expectations.
These changing demands are having a transformative impact on the role of the dealership. The majority of purchases might still happen in store, but the purchase decisions are often made long before, upstream and online. With the number of average dealership visits per purchase dropping from 7 to 1.5, online is now the crucial battleground for every stage of the buying journey, from advert to convert. Many disruptive new manufacturers are looking to take advantage in this key area – at ZeroLight, we’re giving them the tools to do so.
Taking the Air into the cloud
One such manufacturer is Lucid Motors. As a new entrant to the market, it is free from the decades-old legacy infrastructure that slows down change for traditional OEMs. Thomas Orenz, Director of Interactive Digital Marketing at Lucid Motors, was the driving force of integrating this widely holistic digital approach into Lucid within an extremely short timeframe. This allowed Lucid to have a solution in hand for the launch of its new sedan, the Air, and allowed Lucid to create a system that would avoid the challenges above: the industry’s first fully cloud-based retailing ecosystem.
Powered by our unique 3D visualization platform, Lucid’s end-to-end solution makes no compromise between performance and scale. It uses AWS’s cloud architecture – especially the EC2 G4 instances – to create a high-quality shopping experience that is smooth, responsive, and engaging for every customer everywhere, regardless of the device or operating system they are using.
By seamlessly integrating every touchpoint into one centralized platform, we have blurred the lines between online and in-store. The reason this is so important is that it enables customers to conduct their purchase on their own terms, giving them the control to tailor their experience to their own preferences.
Online, customers can customize and explore the Air on any device using our Palette and Palette+ configurators, which have been integrated into Lucid’s state-of-the-art website. When they move in-store to one of Lucid’s Studios, they can then use a 4K and a state-of-the-art VR configurator to finalize their choices.
Getting closer to the customers
Crucially, customers can choose when, how, and where they purchase their Air, because Lucid has become one of the first automotive brands to offer online sales. The result is a total revolution of the traditional linear buying journey: customers have the freedom to activate any touchpoint of Lucid’s inter-connected retail ecosystem at any time.
This is supported by Lucid Live Studio, a shared configuration solution that digitally mirrors the luxury one-to-one Studio experience, enabling customers to enjoy it either online or in-store. Powered by our Concierge product, Lucid Live Studio uses the agility of Amazon EC2 G4 instances to create a luxury virtual sales session. A customer can interact with a digital model of the Air from the comfort of their home while a sales representative guides them through its key features and configuration options. Because this is all powered by the cloud, no screen sharing, downloads, or plugins are required.
Our integrated approach meant Lucid could further enhance the customer experience with advanced personalization where the right content is always delivered to the right person at the right time. If customers opt in, data from their interactions with the configurator are automatically tracked and integrated into Lucid’s CRM systems. This is then used to tailor sales interactions and produce personalized visual content, including images, videos, and interactive customer pages. This visual content is created on demand using our cloud-based, content-production platform, SpotLight Suite, which is also leveraging the power of the AWS Cloud, and delivered to the customer via marketing automation systems, making hyper-personalization a standard feature in every Lucid Air purchase.
Of course, the whole experience would not be as impactful without delivering top-quality visuals and content at every touchpoint. For a customer to commit to making such an important purchase online, they need to have absolute confidence that they know exactly what they are buying. Luckily for Lucid’s customers, deciding online is just as easy as if they were seeing the car in the metal. Using a digital twin model that is built directly from the CAD data used in the car’s design process, the Air is brought to life in photorealistic quality on every touchpoint.
This allows the company to suspend reality for every customer via incredibly immersive, true-to-life visualizations. This doesn’t just apply to the Air itself: as they customize their car, customers can choose between a number of California-inspired backgrounds, complete with life-like features, such as moving waves and chirping birds. These cloud-rendered volumetric-video environments are a world first that ZeroLight and AWS brought to Lucid. The following video shows this technology in action in the real-time configurator – video of volumetric video environment.
This is all underpinned by the world’s first use of real-time, cloud-rendered ray tracing. The so-called “Holy Grail” of visualization technologies, ray tracing is a technique that realistically recreates the way light interacts with different objects and materials in the real world. This means that every shadow and reflection of the car is true to life and computed in real time. By bringing this cutting-edge tech into the cloud, leveraging the NVIDIA RTX technology embedded in each Amazon EC2 G4 instance, we have enabled Lucid’s customers to enjoy the level of detail and accuracy never before seen in any other car configurator.
The quality of this visualization gave Lucid absolute flexibility and agility in its content-production for the launch. Without requiring a photographer or even a physical model of the car, they were able to create stunning visuals of the Air to showcase its features and configuration options, which were then used on social media and even during the unveiling itself.
While COVID-19 meant no physical event could be arranged to showcase the car, customers and journalists were still able to explore the Air after its unveiling – they just did so virtually. They were directed to the online configurator, and they came in their droves: Over 350,000 sessions were recorded in the first five weeks alone. The sheer scale enabled by AWS is evident in the number of concurrent users, which rose well over 600.
This is just the beginning for Lucid. The new base-model of the Air will soon be added to the configurator, along with the latest trim and accessory options. The technology involved itself is also continually evolving as the latest breakthroughs become available. The Studio VR experience, for instance, can also be moved into the cloud as well, as 5G will unlock the capability of NVIDIA’s Cloud XR technology combined with AWS’s G4 compute power. The impact of this would be significant, as streaming the content from the cloud would remove the need for high-end, space-consuming hardware at the point of use.
In the short-term, we’re also gearing up to announce some exciting initial figures on the impact of the project so far, including a 44% increase in conversion rate and a 57% increase in revenue per session when customers were using our premium Palette+ configurator technology.
Beyond this, we believe this project has wider implications for the future. While the current climate is of course challenging for every automotive manufacturer, the success of the Lucid Air launch gives hope to the entire industry. It’s becoming increasingly clear that a return to business as usual is not the solution; brands must adopt rapid digitalization strategies. This is the start of a major modernization of automotive retail.