I was prepared to be cynical, really I was. On paper, launching a car via virtual reality, as Jaguar has just done with its groundbreaking new electric I-Pace, sounded like the kind of high-concept idea that doesn’t work half as well in practice as it does in the espresso-fuelled minds of a team of creative types.
If the car being presented to us isn’t real, I reasoned beforehand, how can we do important journalistic stuff like studiously prod buttons, check out the proportions and dimensions and nosily stick our heads under bonnets and boot lids?
In addition, Jaguar Land Rover’s new car launches are becoming stuff of high-budget legend. In the recent past we’ve had the Jaguar F-Pace looping the loop and the Land Rover Discovery driving over a Tower Bridge made from Lego. Launching a car in a virtual world didn’t sound quite so head-turning by comparison.
I’ve temporarily shelved my cynicism - this was without a doubt the coolest car launch I’ve ever attended in the real world or the virtual one.
I’ll try to describe it, although appreciate that chronicling a virtual reality experience runs the risk of being one of those 'you had to be there' moments. Bear with me.
We sat at circular tables in a darkened room at a location called Milk Studios in Hollywood and donned HTC Vive VR headsets and headphones.
Each headset had a glowing neon frame, so you see other participants around the room. Off to one side were more glowing headsets. It transpired that these belonged to people at a separate studio in London, where Jaguar had created a second VR hub. We could hear them and wave at them as if they were in the room with us.
In the darkened VR world, up popped Andy Jaye, the radio and television presenter compering Jaguar’s launch. He was located in a room elsewhere in the building in LA, being projected in 3D into the virtual space. Then in strolled Jaguar’s design chief Ian Callum, who explained the I-Pace’s design as the car began to take shape alongside him.
Of course, the VR world can put you anywhere in the universe. One minute we were in space, looking down on the Earth as Jaye quizzed Callum on the design origins of the I-Pace. The next minute we were at Venice Beach in LA, sitting in the driver’s seat of the I-Pace and examining the cabin in detail.
It was a fully immersive experience. As Ian Hoban, Jaguar’s vehicle line director, appeared to explain the technology underpinning the I-Pace, it was possible to zoom in on components such as suspension or the battery pack using a hand-held controller.