A recent study of auto consumers performed by Maritz Research revealed that, despite the auto industry's growing use of social media and websites, the salesperson is still the most valuable source of car information for consumers. Nissan customers may soon sing a different tune with news the automaker is launching a new dealership feature based on Microsoft Kinect hardware and software that will allow customers to perform a virtual inspection of a given vehicle – even when the vehicle hasn't yet rolled off the assembly line.

While the aforementioned Maritz study found websites to be no more than a fourth-ranked source of information, that doesn't mean that people don't use them at all. Nissan says that more than 71 percent of all U.S. consumers use the Web to research brands and models. That research tends to end when they design their ideal model using online configuration tools. At that point, they go to the dealership to get more information and test drive their model(s) of choice.

The Kinect Experience leverages Kinect for Windows hardware and software toward allowing customers to "kick the (virtual) tires" of a Nissan model. They'll be able to bend down to check out the wheels, take a tour around the exterior, and step inside to get a feel for the interior's size, layout and equipment.

"Kicking the tires is a critical step in a consumer's car buying process," explains Jon Brancheau, vice president, Marketing, Nissan North America, Inc. People want to see the cars first. It's a visceral thing. See it. Touch it. Drive it. But what happens if the dealer doesn't have that "dream car" on the lot, or that car has not been produced yet? How many sales are left on the table when they can't put their customer in the desired car, and make the critical physical connection to close the deal?"

The program launches with a sneak preview of the recently detailed 2013 Pathfinder, which won't be available for physical test drives or purchases until the U.S. autumn. Sixteen Nissan dealerships in 13 different states across the U.S. are participating in the pilot program. Each dealership has a Pathfinder Kinect Experience kiosk equipped with a television and all the necessary hardware and software that is designed to allow potential buyers to closely inspect the Pathfinder despite the absence of the physical vehicle.

If you're wondering how the Kinect Experience is any different from the video and interactive tools that auto manufacturer's provide on the Web, Nissan's answer is that it's more interactive and intuitive with the Kinect's motion- and voice-activated interface providing a more accurate simulation of physically giving a car the ol' once over. Nissan mentions that customers will step back and forth and lean from side to side in order to gain access to different views and information. The video below provides a better idea of exactly how it works.

Nissan initially used Kinect hardware to show the Pathfinder at the Chicago and New York Auto Shows earlier this year and decided to launch the dealership pilot due to the positive response. The initial pilot program is focusing entirely on the self-contained dealership Kinect kiosks, so participants will still have to go to dealership for the experience. If the pilot is successful, Nissan could extend the technology to its 1,100 dealerships across the U.S., and there's even the possibility that the Kinect Experience could one day work its way into consumers' homes.

A full list of dealerships participating in the pilot can be found via the source link.

Source: Nissan