A Rolls-Royce in your driveway? There’s an app for that

In the beginning, there was the World Wide Web, which offered the car enthusiast seemingly endless information, provided he or she was willing to wait – and wait – for it to download.

Online configurators, which today allow virtual customisation right down to the stitching pattern on the leather seats, wouldn’t have figured in an automaker’s wildest dreams.

That clearly has changed. The launch of a new car’s configurator generates the kind of media attention typically reserved for, well, a new car. Causing much of the fervour are new, responsive features for mobile apps that afford a level of customisation previously reserved for fantasy garages in video games.

The latest carmaker to join in is McLaren, which introduced a mobile app for tablet computers just days after introducing its 650S coupe and 650S Spider at the Geneva motor show. The McLaren 650S app allows users to paint and accessorise their dream hypercoupe, and to position it virtually anywhere: in their driveway, in their office, on the Oscars red carpet – wherever. Users are tagging and sharing their creations via social media under the #mymclaren hash.

In 2013, to commemorate its golden jubilee, Lamborghini released a historical diary of its products via a free app for Apple’s iPad, produced with Motor Trend magazine. The experience was replete with a background soundtrack, a chronological journey through events in the company’s formation and video presentations by such luminaries as chief test driver Valentino Balboni and brand chairman Stephan Winkelmann. It was not a customisable experience, but rather a passive, pleasant journey through Lamborghini’s heritage.

British automaker Rolls-Royce took a more consumer-directed slant, conceiving an app feature that empowers users to emulate the master craftsmen of Goodwood, England. The Design Your Phantom app for iPad allows users to transpose Rolls’ largest model over a self-uploaded photo. (We fancy our Phantom placed just about anywhere, provided safe distance from shopping carts and pigeons.)

Such a concentration of prestigious brands in the mobile-app realm doesn’t mean the industry has turned its back on the computer desktop. Hyundai Motor America recently launched its Driveway Decision Maker, which allows a user to plot a course for an Elantra, Elantra GT or Elantra Coupe to a particular address, via Google Street View. The graphics overlay is not exactly seamless, but if the objective is to monopolise a customer’s attention for as long as possible, few methods seem as effective; cycling through addresses and watching the Hyundai park at its destination can be addicting – a word one would hesitate to ascribe to the car itself.