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Volvo’s Pitch Runs on Oculus Rift

Put Volvo Car Corp. down as an early adopter of the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that was born in Irvine and now operates there under Facebook Inc.’s umbrella.

Sweden-based Volvo used the headset to standout at the recent L.A. Auto Show, where it used it to show off the latest version of the XC90, a seven-seat SUV.

The virtual reality demo, believed to be the first to showcase a commercial vehicle, began in an empty room, with one window that gradually gave way to a black screen with the Volvo logo in the center. The viewer was then transported to the northern shores of Sweden’s largest island, Gotland. The rhythm of the orchestra music in the background gradually rose as parts of the XC90 materialized, floating in space before fitting together around the viewer.

The two-minute experience ended with the viewer is in the driver’s seat of the luxury SUV, with 360-degree views of the interior, a lit dash board, and a sun roof that provided a panoramic view of the Northern Lights in the starry night.

The content was intended to showcase the vehicle in a “very calm, soothing and solitary way” and highlight the Volvo brand heritage, according to Peder Sandgvist, who led the project.

Indeed, the picturesque setting displayed through the Oculus Rift in a sound-proof glass booth with four viewing stations provided a nice reprieve from the crowded, bright and noisy exhibition floor of the Los Angeles Convention Center.

“We want to be able to transport people into that environment while they explore the car,” said Sandgvist, creative producer in the Sweden office of London-based DigitasLBi. “It’s just you and the car and Sweden. We felt that could be a strong combination.”

Collaboration

The digital marketing firm contracted by Volvo began the project in February and met with Oculus VR staffers several times in March at the company’s headquarters on MacArthur Boulevard.

The small engineering team had content running in July with an Oculus prototype headset and Volvo 3-D modeling software. That same month, Oculus was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion.

“It was kind of a quick project,” Sandgvist said. “We were looking for ways to incorporate that into our business offering and help our clients create interesting experiences using digital technology.”

No Stranger

DigitasLBi was no stranger to Oculus. It took part in the Oculus Kickstarter campaign in August 2012, helping the startup raise $2.4 million.

The agency first experimented with Oculus’ technology by developing roller coasters and other content on the early version of the Rift sent to Kickstarter backers.

The first test drive of the Volvo demo came in September when the automaker released the first edition of the XC90 for sale online and at a special event in Stockholm for VIP customers, who had a chance to don the VR headset.

The 1,927 individually numbered cars—a figure celebrating the year Volvo was established—sold out in 47 hours with a price tag of about $90,000.

Google Cardboard

Volvo last month became the first company to launch a virtual reality campaign using Google Cardboard.

The cardboard headset included Volvo-branded goggles and allowed viewers to experience the SUV in virtual reality through an Android app.

The automaker also debuted the V60 Cross Country wagon at the L.A. Auto Show, where it unveiled plans to revive sales in the U.S. after 10 straight years of declines, despite growth in Western Europe, China and other markets.

Volvo aims to boost U.S. sales to about 100,000 cars next year, up from an estimated 60,000 units this year.

The company sold about 427,000 cars in 100 countries in 2013.

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