Eccentric Engine is taking the car buying experience online
Eccentric Engine, a Mumbai-based tech company has joined hands with carmakers to provide an immersive online car buying experience for customers. With its ‘One 3D’ software, Eccentric Engine has enabled car manufacturers to showcase their vehicles with 360-degree 3D visuals on their websites. The One 3D platform provides real-time 3D digital visualisations of vehicles with the help of photorealism, real-time lighting, shadows and textures. Homegrown giants like Maruti Suzuki and Tata, along with global OEMs like MG, Citroen, Nissan and Toyota have tied up with Eccentric Engine to create these 3D models of their products, to make the at-home car buying experience as close to a visit to a physical dealership as possible — an important aspect in this day and age of lockdowns and social distancing. Let's see what the One 3D software is all about, but first — a background check on the company itself.
Eccentric Engine: The journey
Eccentric Engine was founded in 2012 by Varun Shah and Gaurav Rane and has been developing online 3D visualisations for automakers since 2016. Their first partnership in the auto industry was with Tata Motors, creating a 3D model for the (then-new) Hexa. That’s when they realised that there was a gap in the market, and wanted to seize it. “We just had this idea. Every single automotive visualisation on the internet just consisted of the same 360 rotation of images of a car, so why don't we try and give a more realistic and natural feel to the visuals of the car by making it 3D?” says Varun.
Getting that first gig wasn't easy though. “Nothing like this (One 3D software) existed. So we actually had to make everything from scratch,” says Varun, talking about the fact that he and his team were breaking new ground when it came to visualisation platforms. And once that was developed, the real challenge was convincing an otherwise conservative industry to invest in this idea. The company had to first prove to the manufacturers the need for an online 3D configurator. Until recently, a 3D configurator wasn't too much of a priority for carmakers, because online sales were still not common in India. Talking about the way OEMs looked at 3D configurators back in the day, Varun says, “It was something that was at the very end of their to-do list.”
So Eccentric Engine pushed, and they pushed hard. They even developed the visualiser for the cars before an OEM signed on with them, hoping that the results would convince them. “If they don't like it, no problem, we lose all the effort that we put in,” shrugs Varun, but that was a risk they were willing to take. The Hexa project was a great way to validate that they were on the right track. The moment the configurator launched, data showed that the average time spent on such an experience was four times more than the time people spent on the brand website.
How do the visuals come to life?
Eccentric Engine works with the OEM’s design and marketing teams while designing a 3D visual for a car. Its One 3D software makes use of photorealism, which attempts to produce the vehicle as realistically as possible on a screen. You might say that 3D has existed before, and yes that is true but not with the same realism, aided by real-time lighting, shadow effects and textures. These features give the visualisations more depth and make the vehicle more real life-like. This is far different from a normal 360-degree view created by using multiple 2D images. Eccentric Engine also spends a lot of time making sure the details of the interior are as accurate as possible to the real car. This includes the interior trims, textures and even materials present everywhere. Eccentric Engine’s team has to physically scan each car numerous times from all angles. This data is then converted into the 3D visuals that we see.
How does the One 3D platform benefit you and the dealers?
The One 3D platform has brought the showroom to the homes of people, which has also benefited dealers by decreasing the need to hold fleets. Earlier when a buyer came to the showroom to view a car, the dealer had to have the same car in multiple trim levels and colours for the buyer to see. The One 3D platform has omitted the need for this as the dealers don't have to hoard in inventory and can showcase the different trim levels, interior materials and colour options of a car through their configurators.
As a buyer, you get the advantage of being able to spec your car how you want and be able to get an idea of what it would look like in the real world. You also get to see what the optional packages will add to the appearance of your car, and the One 3D software also has prices for each variant, trim and optional package, making the buying decision easier.
What's in it for the manufacturers?
You might think that the One 3D platform is just an online sales form for the manufacturers, but in reality, it is much more than that. It is a sort of a feedback form that everybody uses when they visit the manufacturer's website, even if it is to simply look at the vehicle. The One 3D platform allows Eccentric Engine to share the browsing data with the carmakers. For example:- Data such as how much time a user spends looking at the tail light of a car or the interior can be analysed and sorted out to assess the feedback provided by the buyer. This is pretty helpful to them as it can then be used to make changes, if any, or understand what exactly the target audience desires from their product. If the design of the car is what the public is spending time looking at on the configurator, that is a good sign.
Making 3D visuals might look easy but it takes a lot of time, "We have to convert GBs of data into just 10s of MBs,” says Gaurav. “To get very good photo shoots done of these and then accurately convert them into very small size textures that again load up on the web experience, that's a huge challenge we go through," he adds. These tasks take a lot of time as the engineers also have to optimise the experience to a number of different devices, operating systems and screens — Android, iOS, or a web browser on the computer. They simply can't design the graphics and the visuals with keeping in mind only the top tier devices, because if they do that there is a huge probability that the experience will be sub-par on low-end devices. Similarly, if the visuals are planned out for low-end devices, the experience won't do justice to high-end devices which are capable of supporting much higher graphics. Internet speed is an important factor here too. The average load time for a visual should be no more than 10 seconds because if it takes any longer, the user might lose interest and quit browsing. Click here to get a more in-depth view into the workings of Eccentric Engine’s One 3D software tailored for the Citroen C5 Aircross.
Eccentric Engine now plans to focus on getting into the two-wheeler market. The two-wheeler graphics are even harder to design than a four-wheeler primarily because of how exposed its inner workings are. Of course, these also need to look as real as possible in the visuals. The second reason is that the percentage of two-wheelers bought in our country is higher than that of the four-wheelers, and consequently Eccentric Engine will need to host more products. The third reason is the buyers themselves, "If you talk about two-wheelers, we see that the engagement will be far more because the average age and tech barrier to experience something like this is going to be less. A person exploring two-wheelers is someone familiar with gaming, of course, you don't need to be a gamer to experience 3D. It's universal. But we're seeing that the audience is going to be far more receptive.” says Varun.
Eccentric Engine also plans to standardise this virtual experience in the Indian automotive market because of the sheer time it takes to create visuals for just one product. "We understand that there are a lot of vehicles to show, a lot of objects to show. We can't be doing it all by ourselves, we need channel partners to do this, we need to equip others with the capability to actually get it done, which is where our software comes into the picture.” says Varun. The company has plans to launch a software in 2022, which will enable a manufacturer from any industry to create a virtual experience for their product. But the next thing which Eccentric Engine has planned for automotive manufacturers is making sure these 3D visuals are also a sales channel for them. Varun says, “The sales channel of an OEM used to only be dealerships. Now, there are OEMs selling online too which is yet another sales channel. We are saying that we are going to make sure our new software is not only going to be an experience channel, but a sales channel too.”
Digital car buying has become a mainstream thing now. Almost every carmaker offers an online configurator. Eccentric Engine’s One 3D software makes sure these vehicles are as real as possible and in times like these, it is the closest you can come to getting up close with a car you plan to buy, from the safety of your home. Moreover, this software also helps the dealers because it slightly reduces the problem of inventory storage. The showrooms can only have a car or two for the buyers to physically experience and test drive, while everything else including the colours, trims and options can be showcased by the means of visualisation. Eccentric Engine’s One 3D platform makes the car buying experience virtual, in the truest sense.