Driverless cars may have lost their cachet.

Why? Because the next great automotive innovation just might be the totally customizable virtual reality (VR) car.

At least that’s the contention being made by a startup called Rocket Data Intelligence GmbH at the International Motor Show (IAA), which kicks off tomorrow in Frankfurt, Germany.

For car manufacturers, one benefit of such virtual reality technology is that it allows automakers to build up market research data, which could lead to increased sales or product development. The idea being: that the data collected through the virtual car creation process could help predict future consumer spending patterns.

As Rocket Data Intelligence puts it, “what can be automated, will be automated.”

"With our solution, car manufacturers can see directly which customer groups prefer what. This allows them to suggest configurations a similar customer might like, and to display these products directly and as an exact fit — which is almost like ‘Amazon for the car industry,’” said Kubilay Topal, CEO of Rocket Data Intelligence, in a statement.

Extreme Digital Experience

The Rocket Data Intelligence team describes itself as experts in digital analytics, digital retail, visualization and automotive. “And we are bringing those four industries together,” it notes on the company website.

The VR solution is powered by old-fashioned CAD design technology and a new-fashioned, so-called Virtual Reality Content Machine (VRCM), which can be powered by graphics processors found in your nearest gamer's laptop, or on a global scale with a GPU cloud.

It seems, though, that at the moment the big winners of VR vehicles are the consumers.

Rocket Data Intelligence’s software allows you to build a "dream car" on your mobile or desktop devices at home.

Then, once it's to your liking, you can stop into your local auto dealer to experience the vehicle through a "Powerwall" that displays the car through 3-D glasses, writ large like's in the showroom or through an Oculus or other VR glasses to get the immersive, cockpit feel.

With eyegear on, users can still make adjustments to their fantasy vehicle using a mobile device — to, say, change the style of their steering wheel, the color of the car's upholstery and other details.

Growing Big

Virtual reality technology overall is picked to be moving beyond the fun and hype phase. Research and Markets called for the space to grow to nearly $16 billion by 2020, up from $980.4 million in 2014, in a June 2015 trends and forecast report.

"The virtual reality market is lucrative due to the projected potential growth in the next five years. Therefore, many startups as well as technology giants are interested in investing in this market," the report authors wrote, pointing to big name players like Samsung, Microsoft and Barco NV, and specialists like Oculus VR, Eon Reality, Vuzix Corp., Sensics, Leap Motion, Sixense Entertainment and Cyberglove Systems.

Oculus has arguably become the most recognizable brand to emerge out of the VR market since Facebook’s high profile acquisition of the company last year.

Market drivers are the rise of the head-mounted displays, such as those that power the Rocket dream cars, as well as other hardware needed for an interactive virtual reality experience. The Research and Markets authors counted no less than 15 new VR product launches in the past three years.

One More Industry Disruption

On the marketing and advertising side, pundits have been claiming for a while now how VR would revolutionize the field. And as of last reporting, VR is on the happy end of the Gartner Hype Cycle — on the so-called "Slope of Enlightenment," past the “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” and on its way to the “Plateau of Productivity.”

According to Rocket Data Intelligence, the VRCM could significantly alter marketing and sales. “Generating pictures of new vehicle models no longer means laboriously rendered image material from a graphic designer or photo shootings. Images will no longer be calculated with the main processor of a computer, but created much faster with powerful graphics processors. This can halve the costs for the production of images,” the company claims.

If you doubt the potential — or the potential ripple effects VR will create for marketers in industries of all kinds — just consider the words of Mike Lavigne, a digital strategist at Centric Digital in New York City. Just last month he wrote:

“VR platforms like Oculus are certainly the next major channel for building meaningful digital experiences for users, the underlying principle to your approach should remain the same: understand your users, identify ways to create value for them, and construct digital experiences capable of meeting those needs in an easy and enjoyable way.

“What’s clear is that your omnichannel strategies will have to adapt and expand to include VR as an equally important platform in the multichannel marketing spectrum.”

Beyond dream cars, marketers have been using virtual reality to offer consumers: virtual honeymoon experiences (Marriott Hotels), tours of a tequila distillery (Patron) and simulated extreme flying races (Red Bull).

When my virtual dream car can transform into an extreme jet that then transports me to a famous tequila factory, please sign me up.

Title image by Sander Smeekes.