Michael Laxman, Brand Lead, 3DEXCITE, Dassault Systemes tells Mayank Dhingra how simulation can drive change in digital automotive retail in a time of social distancing and create a meaningful platform for boosting business going forward.
What do you think will be the behavioural shift in consumers when it comes to visiting automobile showrooms once the Covid-19 lockdown is lifted?
As far as behaviour is concerned, the Coronavirus-induced lockdown has impacted everybody, so definitely there are going to be changes in the way people approach a lot of things, not just buying vehicles. In fact, the present scenario is also forcing a lot of motorsport events such as Formula 1 and Moto GP to be cancelled. Just like these sports, buying a vehicle involves a lot of human emotions, and we are seeing the excitement being kept alive online. It would be interesting to see how OEMs are thinking at this point in time.
Definitely, there is going to be a drastic change. For OEMs, it has always been about marketing and sales. Now, it’s going to be a combined effort of a lot of stakeholders, who would devise new means of marketing and retail to counter the change in consumer behaviour.
Having said that, the concept of change, in particular, is not new. People have been buying vehicles online. A lot of research is already done in this regard which clearly shows that the behaviour has been shifted long ago.
How can companies build online tools to facilitate vehicle purchase for consumers?
We do not expect people sitting at home to try to change everything overnight. For sure, once we are over with this crisis situation, then it’s going to be a big roundtable discussion and those projects will have to start rolling. While it’s still probably a young subject, I see a lot of things accelerating after Covid. The OEMs themselves create their own strategies depending upon the market situation and we, as the solution providers, are ready to take our customers on that journey to go completely digital.
Dassault Systemes’ 3DEXCITE platform allows importing of the exact material information from heavily-engineered CAD data to build digital continuity of the product.
What about the look-and-feel online? How can OEMs offer as realistic an experience digitally as possible?
The actual physicality is important for a prospective customer. A lot of the new emerging brands are also getting fairly successful because of the online engagement that the consumer has through different mediums such as videos, photos, AI (artificial intelligence) and VR (virtual reality)-enabled immersive details. So, it’s not something new for us or our customers. We were hoping that instead of a sudden shift, this change would be a gradual one.
We have to work with new ideas and innovative solutions. There’s a lot of work that goes in. As far as the look-and-feel and the user experience is concerned, that is where Dassault Systemes’ 3DEXCITE suite comes in. First, we build a digital continuity. We take 100 percent verified parts of a product, for instance a motorcycle, and take that exact data and information, and enhance it with our solution.
The exact material information, for instance, the use of chrome on the mirror or the side panels, is applied on this heavily-engineered CAD data. Then, there are photographic solutions such as shooting images, lighting and use of RAW image files which have been superimposed in different environments. These pictures can then be taken and be deployed to print on billboards, magazines, or even product brochures.
One could also make CGI (computer-generated imagery) films without even having to do a proper physical video shoot of the car or the motorcycle. This can then be plugged into the product’s website, which works on the cloud. The retail manuals for the dealers can also be disbursed from within the 3DEXCITE platform. So, that’s how we focus on product experience, the look-and-feel and maintain the emotions.
By the use of another integrated tool — NETVIBES — we are able to generate analytics from different consumers and understand as to what part of the CGI or the product display caught their attention.
Will Dassault Systemes support OEMs which are not using its design platforms or PLM?
We support what we call a multi-CAD discipline. We are able to support not just OEMs who are on our platform, but any other PLM for that matter. We are able to seamlessly integrate all the data and configure multiple variants through the bill of materials (BOM). So, all of this is completely independent of the software being used by the OEM or its suppliers.
What would be the role of brick-and-mortar outlets? How would the products be stocked? Would there be need for stockyards as before?
If an OEM decides to take the entire retail online, the dealer is still going to be very important and be the face of the company to its customers. As technology converges, people will be able to book, finance and negotiate with the dealer, based on the database information fed in the system.
There might be a new player in the market who could just be the sole dealer for the OEM and do the stocking and delivery. It’s not something that dealers are not going to be profitable out of or not be a part of this system altogether.
Moreover, a dealer can never stock all variants of a product. Real estate is a problem and online is going to make everything easy and transparent. Also, a customer’s transaction with a relationship manager is always one-time until the next purchase.
Manpower-less showrooms are going to be popular concepts in the future, and these are concepts that are being discussed by OEMs for a long time now. This is where anybody can simply walk-in and get an experience. An OEM is always going to be an enabler of a platform or technology. The OEMs have already thought of how a consumer will interact with technology. It becomes a lot easier for us to take that configure and remap it.
How much would a company need to invest in setting up a digital retail platform?
There are a lot of big teams involved right from marketing to IT. It’s a joint effort among different OEM teams and technology providers to devise a strategy basis what they need in terms of what segment of customers one caters to and what kind of traffic one aims to generate online. For instance, the approach of a mass-market player and a luxury player will be very different. But, what we can ensure is that the quality of the platform will be consistent.
If we look at any OEM’s online digital marketing budget, a project like this is something that can definitely fit into that, but since it’s a big effort, there needs to be a portal to support this entire activity, and the IT will also be equally important for the cloud support. So, I reckon that it would cost a company a combination of its IT and marketing budgets.
Highly detailed product images in RAW format are subjected to automated tools such as lighting correction and superimposition against different backdrops to create alluring pictures.
Would you differentiate the chances of success of an online retail platform to be more in metros vs Tier 2 and Tier cities?
I would not differentiate between Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. In terms of being tech savvy, it’s something that India has adopted really well, thanks to the e-commerce and e-payment services that have become popular and have seen widespread adoption in the recent past.
As far as change and adaptability are concerned, it’s not going to be difficult for us. Today, most of the research before buying a product is done online and what remains is only seeing, testing and feeling the product. The change will be there, but it needs to be seen how the OEMs make the consumer adapt to it.