Technology | Business

To Test-Drive A Concept Car, Fire Up The PlayStation

NPR | Nov. 22, 2013 4:21 p.m.

Contributed By:

Sonari Glinton

Mercedes-Benz introduced its AMG Vision Gran Turismo concept vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week. This is just a model of the car; the fully functioning version is virtual.

Mercedes-Benz introduced its AMG Vision Gran Turismo concept vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week. This is just a model of the car; the fully functioning version is virtual.

AP, Jae C. Hong

Drifting is one of those crazy things you should only do in a video game, but I got to experience it in real life at Willow Spring Race Track in the California desert with racecar driver and expert drifter Dai Yoshihara.

Drifting, Yoshihara explains, is “a controlled slide through a series of corners at very high speed.”

He was at the wheel of Scion FR-S taking high-speed turns at … OK, to be honest I would tell you how fast we were going, but I was afraid to look.

I lost my microphone for a second (and later, I lost my lunch as well).

Using GPS, Sony recreated the kind of drive that Yoshihara and I went on. The company did it in its PlayStation video game Gran Turismo, which is relaunching Dec. 6.

It’s not just that games are trying to simulate the car world — carmakers also want a piece of the gaming world.

Auto shows have traditionally been an important testing ground for new vehicle ideas. But carmakers are ceding some of that ground to video games at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week.

“Ladies and gentleman,” an announcer says, “the Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo embodies our design philosophy in a distinctive and fascinating way.”

Luxury car manufacturer Mercedes is showing off a model of a new concept car at the auto show. But here’s the thing — you can only drive the car in a video game.

Mercedes designer Hubert Lee says creating an original car purely for a video game could attract new buyers. “It brings in younger clients to experience the cars so that maybe one day these gamers … can actually want to own the car,” he says.

Working with video games could replace the whole dog-and-pony show where a carmaker builds a concept car, says Jake Fisher with Consumer Reports.

“They put a concept car out here at the auto show, and they want to see, do people start yawning or do they start cheering?” he says. “And you can do that much cheaper in a video game, because it’s pretty easy to design that car in pixels, rather than actually building one.”

Alec Gutierrez, a car analyst at Kelley Blue Book, says the potential for carmakers goes far beyond basic brand promotion. Gaming technology is letting people get the full experience of being in a car.

“They have fully rendered interiors,” he says. “You can go in there and see the stitching on the steering wheel. You can look around in the car. I mean, you look at some of these in-game pictures and compare them to actual shots of the car in the real world, and they’re almost indistinguishable.”

So consumers could jump into a car in a game, peek at the interior, walk around the exterior, drive it and compare it to other cars — just like in real life. “Go Accord, Camry, Altima back-to-back and really get a sense of that car is going to perform like on the road,” Gutierrez says.

And after that?

“I don’t see why consumers and video game players wouldn’t be more willing to not only shop and research but end up purchasing a car in-game, or something along those lines,” Gutierrez says.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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