GM opens virtual showroom for interactive car shopping

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General motors corp. set aside the traditional "cars on carpet" showroom last week for a splashy interactive showroom at its New York offices on Fifth Avenue.

"GM on 5th" covers 12,000-plus square feet of a renovated lobby where potential customers can not only look at but also interact with new models and concept cars from GM. Visitors move around the showroom among vignettes including a luxury hotel, garage and outdoor scene complete with trees and clouds.

"It's like window shopping, but you get to jump in and interact with the product," said Phil Guarascio, VP-general manager of marketing and advertising for North American Operations at GM, adding that the interaction between the car and customer is an integral part of automotive marketing.


At each area, visitors can sit in the car and experience multimedia effects, including one that simulates driving through different cities, including San Francisco, Las Vegas and Washington.

Another scene imitates the experience of driving a performance car, with video of the driver, projected onto a giant screen in front of the car, interspersed with images of the car traveling down the road. Other scenarios use audio and video to convey messages about features of a particular car, the process of designing a car and child safety.


"It's a destination," said David McDowell, VP at McGill Multimedia, creator of the interactive technology behind the GM showroom. "It's not an attraction, like Walt Disney World or Hollywood. We're using interactive technology to build the GM brand."

The first six featured cars are the Cadillac El Dorado, GMC Envoy, Oldsmobile Silhouette, Firebird TransAm, Buick Century, and Chevrolet CK pickup.

McGill Multimedia ends the customer's visit with a trip to a "creation station" where users can design their own car on a computer.

Through choices of make, model, color and trim, showroom visitors create a car and receive a printout along with a local dealer address based on their ZIP code.


Individual vignettes were designed along with GM brand managers for the car models.

Mr. Guarascio said the showroom is designed to "establish the brands' core benefits and match them with specific consumer lifestyle needs."

He added that there were some unique marketing challenges, and even cautious concern, in designing the venue. "This showroom is not a commercial, if it doesn't work, we can't pull it tomorrow," he said.

If the interactive showroom is successful, GM may build others. Mr. McDowell said the agency's other clients--including Sears, Roebuck & Co.--are closely watching what happens at "GM on 5th" for possible interactive projects of their own.

Contributing: Laura Petrecca.

Copyright October 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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