It's no secret car shoppers aren't thrilled with the dealership experience. According to a survey from Cox Automotive, just 1 in 3 respondents said they are "very satisfied" with the current dealership model. This negative perception of car dealerships explains why many shoppers turned to online car buying even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it takes the salesperson out of the equation, buying a vehicle exclusively online comes with drawbacks like a limited selection and no test drive prior to the purchase. Could there be a middle ground between the traditional dealership experience and online car buying? Hyundai is testing it out in the form of a customer service robot named 'DAL-e'.

hyundai robot closeup

Launched as a pilot program at a Hyundai showroom in Seoul, South Korea, DAL-e is an advanced AI-powered robot tasked with providing top-notch customer service to car shoppers. DAL-e stands for "Drive you, Assist you, Link with you-experience" and it lives up to its name thanks to language processing, facial recognition, and the ability to move around the showroom to assist customers as needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Standing under 4-ft tall, and weighing 176 pounds, DAL-e is not only lighter and more compact than most robots, but his small stature and friendly features also make him more approachable. Taking the intimidation factor out of the equation, DAL-e can guide customers around the showroom floor and provide detailed information about products while engaging in dialogue and responding to screen touch controls. 

hyundai robot displaying cars

Thanks to his 4 omnidirectional wheels, DAL-e can freely move around the showroom to escort customers to their vehicles of interest. He can also project vehicle information wirelessly onto a large display screen, provide gestures with movable arms, and pose for photo ops with customers. 

DAL-e hasn't yet replaced salespeople at Hyundai's Seoul showroom. Instead, he's tasked with easing workflow for Hyundai's human employees, helping customers who want a contact-free experience due to COVID-19, and providing support during peak times like weekends. Hyundai says it plans to expand DAL-e's responsibilities at other Hyundai and Kia showrooms following the pilot program.

Robodog at factory
Automakers already rely on robots for factory optimization, will dealerships be next? (image: Ford)

The auto industry is no stranger to robots. They have been used for years to automate manufacturing and help with retooling (like these 4-legged robodogs at Ford). Now, Hyundai is turning to DAL-e to make robotic technology customer-facing as well:

The DAL-e is a next-generation service platform that can offer automated customer services anytime. It is expected to become a messenger capable of delivering consistent messages to customers in a more intimate and personal way than conventional robots,” said Dong Jin Hyun, Vice President and Head of the Robotics Lab at Hyundai Motor Group. “With continuous updates and improvements, the DAL-e will provide fresh, pleasant experiences to our valued customers in a contact-free environment. Our objective is to enable the DAL-e to engage in a smooth and entertaining communication with customers and present valuable services to them.” 

hyundai robot car
DAL-e may be just the "person" customers want to interact with at the dealership.

Is there a chance we'll see more DAL-e robots than human salespeople at the dealership one day? Based on the Cox Automotive survey of car shoppers mentioned above - it's possible. Out of the 2,000 respondents, 7/10 said they liked the idea of a brand experience center over a traditional dealership, and 6/10 said they would want help from dealership staff who aren't salespeople. DAL-e is able to accommodate both of these preferences.

Michelle Krebs of Cox Automotive describes the car shopper's ideal experience: "they want a different kind of person in the dealership and a different kind of relationship with that person. More of a product specialist. It's a shift of focus, a change in the salesperson's job." Maybe the best kind of car salesperson isn't a person at all.