One factor is going to be a lot more important when it comes to buying a car for the person has fresh memory of washing their groceries and wearing an N-95 mask everywhere they go: The ability to design and buy online, not slide into a car on the lot.
When it comes to electric car companies that don't have dealerships and are still in the start-up phase, there's an economic advantage to an online design studio for customers that also plays into the forward-thinking culture they want to foster.
Two different electric automakers announced online design studios within days of each other recently. In the contact-free world of Covid-19, the car configurators have taken on new importance.
Rivian, the electric car firm aimed at the great outdoors explorer last month announced its online car configurator. A day later, Lucid Motors, the electric carmaker run by a former Tesla engineer, did the same.
Rivian and Lucid Motors are part of a wave of electric automakers that could give Tesla a run for its money. Subscribe to Musk Reads+ to learn more.
"For many consumers, the shift to beginning their decision-making journey online started even before Covid," Derek Jenkins, vice president of design at Lucid, tells Inverse. "As Lucid grows and we scale our physical presence, we want to offer consumers a virtual option that augments the physical experience of viewing a Lucid Air and provides options for colors, materials, and finishes."
Peter de Haan, a lecturer at ETH Zurich for energy and mobility who co-authored a paper on car-buying habits, tells Inverse these tools are ideal for brands that want to attract "digital natives with high willingness-for-pay for individuality (in an increasingly homogenous world)."
"Online car configurators are most effective for those car brands that at present have no (or only few) local car dealers, and mainly address 'digital natives,'" Haan says. "So it is an attractive marketing tool especially for new car brands — and accidentally these happen to be electric drive brands."
Rivian's menu offers what may seem like a dizzying array of options, but when used correctly it could help you design the vehicle of your dreams. The Michigan-headquartered company, rolled out access to its online tool for its truck and SUV, the R1T and R1S, on November 16 for pre-order holders, before granting access to the general public on November 23.
The tool bears resemblance to Tesla's online tools, used for speccing out perfected versions of its Model S, 3, X, and Y vehicles.
Tesla bucked the trend of going through dealerships by selling directly to the consumer, rolling out showrooms with staff that can explain the benefits of the new EV tech. This approach meant some American states locked Tesla out. The firm's online car configurator has proven popular as fans share images of updates.
Just one day after Rivian's tool was released to the public, competitor Lucid also rolled out a configurator for its Air, a luxury sedan. Jenkins says the firm's tool "delivers the richness of interaction that befits a true luxury brand like Lucid." The goal, he explains, was to offer "a realistic and end-to-end experience that blurs the lines between an online and in-store experience."
Lucid's configurator brought the trend to a whole new level. The firm employed ZeroLight, a U.K.-based visualization company, that used ray tracing technology to create 3D models of the cars. The tool was praised by The Next Web writer Matthew Beedham as "the most beautiful car configurator I’ve ever seen."
More than offering a nice look at a driver's future car, Haan argues that these tools make use of what's called in social psychology the "endowment effect." The buyer starts building the car because there is no commitment and it's free. But as you customize it, it starts to feel more personal. You don't want to give it up.
"You start feeling connected, and you start attaching a value. Just by spending some time with an online configurator," Haan says.
While Covid makes actually seeing the cars in person harder, these configurators are fostering desire and attachment in potential customers while they remain at home.
Rivian configurator: how it works
Rivian is using one of these tools to enable buyers to get their hands on one of its new vehicles.
The Rivian R1S sport utility vehicle packs a quad-motor layout, towing capacity of up to 7,700 pounds, 0 to 60 mph times of three seconds, and a wading depth of three feet. A $77,500 Launch edition is set to hit roads in August 2021 for the United States, and November 2021 for Canada. A cheaper $70,000 Explore edition will hit roads in January 2022. The R1S will come with a 300-plus-mile pack, and the date for a 250-plus-mile pack release is also expected after launch.
The Rivian R1T truck packs the same acceleration times and wading depth as the R1S, but has a towing capacity of up to 11,000 pounds. A $75,000 Launch edition will start deliveries in June 2021 for the United States, and November 2021 for Canada. A cheaper $67,500 Explore edition will reach customers in January 2022.
The configurator for the R1T and R1S has four sections: configure, exterior, interior, and summary. As buyers move through the website and choose out their options, the image preview of the car will be updated.
The Configure section gives a choice of whether to opt for the Adventure or the Explore pack. While they both tout impressive descriptions, the pricing tells the real story: the Adventure pack is the premium option.
For the exterior, the main choices are wheels and colors. Silver and white are free, most changes cost $1,500, and yellow and blue cost $2,500. For wheels, the 21-inch tires are free, while switching to 20-inch or 22-inch starts at $1,800. Rivian also offers an off-road package.
Rivian advises that wheel changes will affect range, but the configurator does not provide concrete details on the impact. Inverse has contacted Rivian for comment.
YouTube channel "Engineering Explained" has a good explainer on why smaller wheels are better for battery range. Over on the Rivian forums, the 20-inch all-terrain wheels are proving a popular choice.
At this stage, R1T buyers also have the option to buy a camp kitchen. This $5,000 option includes an induction cooktop, four-gallon water tank and pump, an optional 30-piece prep and cookware set from Snow Peak — and yes, even a kitchen sink.
Next up is interior. On the R1T it's a choice between Black Mountain or Ocean Coast interior. Unlike Tesla, switching to the white seats does not cost extra. Adventure pack buyers will also have the option for a $2,000 Forest Edge interior. Buyers of the R1S can also choose whether to have seven seats or five.
Once the car is configured, buyers can see their finished car on the summary page. They can either place the order or go back and tweak it further.