Audi West London 2009 665x297

Is the traditional car showroom doomed?

Travel agents, music stores and book shops are all in decline, with the internet being held to blame for their demise. It’s not unusual, for example, to see shoppers in Waterstones looking for the latest blockbuster, only to then whip out their smartphone and compare the price to that on Amazon.

There’s countless industries where the internet can make life easier as a consumer, but there are always some areas where you want to touch and feel the product before buying.CHAL Banner

Surprisingly perhaps, car buying is not one of those areas. Research shows that somewhere in the region of 70 percent of consumers have pretty much made up their mind on a car long before wandering in to a showroom, while a surprising 12 percent don’t ever visit the dealer before buying.

It makes you wonder then why Audi built their stunning West London dealership back in 2009. The world’s biggest Audi showroom, it is spread over seven floors, covers close to 120,000 square feet and can display well over 100 cars at once. There is even a three storey high sculpture hanging in the atrium that took three cranes to lift in to place.

Instead of being a pure showroom though, Audi have made the centre more of an experience. There’s historic Quattro vehicles on display, an exhibition that showcases Audi’s innovations over their 100 plus year history and, of course, the latest models to look over, with over 100 staff members on hand to help out and answer any questions.

Audi West London 2009 Overview

It obviously works, with more than 30,000 people a year going through the doors. There’s no word on how many of those turn in to customers though, but at the very least the experience will help move Audi to the front of people’s minds when it comes to buying.

With a showroom that is more of an experience centres already running, Audi then took the next obvious step – getting rid of the cars themselves and just leaving the experience.

Just round the corner from Piccadilly Circus in London, Audi City is a compact retail space that has seen the cars replaced by interactive digital terminals and screens. The German manufacturer now has the ability not only to present its entire model line-up, as well as future and concept models, in every combination of colours and specifications, but it can do so with a full-size digital model built to the customers specific demands.

If you want to know what a purple A3 looks like with red leather interior and 15 inch steel wheels, well now you can. Audi don’t ask why you would want to, but are happy to demonstrate any of the few hundred million combinations available, before zooming in on the drivers in, body shell or even LED lighting in a way that makes innovations understandable to the buyer.

Audi City Showroom 2013 InteriorIt doesn’t stop there, with Audi now producing an app for your smartphone that augments reality; to you and me that means that flash videos and information pop up on your phones screen if you point the camera at the latest Audi brochure.

In effect it creates a living brochure, one that allows you to spin a picture of a car around to view it from any angle, or room inside to check out many of the many tiny details. Extra technical information and video demonstrations can be added and updated with new technology without needing to go the expense of printing new brochures. Importantly, prices could he updated in real time.

Taking it further, there is no reason why such an app couldn’t even include a live-chat facility so you can speak directly to an Audi specialist, and even go so far as to be able to order a new car directly from your phone.

It all points to the death of the traditional showroom, surely making it only a matter of time until magazine target prices are replaced with price comparison car websites.

There will always be buyers who want to go through the touchy feely process, but the numbers are shrinking. If the internet really does see the showroom go the way of the Dodo, then the phrase Vorspung Durch Technik couldn’t be more appropriate.

[button link=”” rel=”nofollow” color=”orange”]This article was first published at on 28 May 2013.[/button]

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.