Here are some articles about the use of VR at Mercedes / Daimler-Chrysler.
The first at CarAndDriver.com :
Ride/handling simulators and virtual reality coves also advanced the design [of the 2008 Mercedes Class-C] to a very mature level as prototypes were built, allowing more time for actual road testing, according to Mercedes-Benz. And though we haven’t had a chance to drive the car itself—at least not in real reality (we did play with it in virtual reality, though)—the new C-class promises the kind of refinement, quietness, comfort and performance heretofore unseen in the C-class.
Then two from FindArticles.com : VR Streamlines Mercedes’ Development Process (2001)
[In April 2001] Daimler-Chrysler (DC) opened a new Virtual Reality Center at its Mercedes-Benz passenger car development center in Sindelfingen, Germany. (…) After only a few months of operation, this supercomputer-driven visualization facility proved so useful that the members of DC’S executive strategy board now approve designs using virtual images instead of physical properties. (…) When it’s not entertaining visitors, the Powerwall serves as the portal to DC’s CATIA-generated data bank. Car designers, fluid-dynamics engineers and ergonomics experts collaborate to solve problems well before the physical prototype stage. Rough concepts can be viewed in everyday traffic.
(…) the viewer takes a seat inside an 8 foot open cube to be immersed in an holographic sea. A-pillars, the instrument panel and the external world appear as ghost-like, 3-D images. With each nod of the head or twist of the neck, the perspective changes convincingly. Though it lacks the fine detail of the 2-D Powerwall, the Cave is useful for ergonomic analysis and evaluating designs for manufacturing and service accessibility.
They still had Silicon Graphics at the time !
The next article is about Mercedes’ virtual reliance (Oct 2003):
“Virtual reality is the backbone of engineering for us,” says Dr. Bharat Balasubramanian, vice president of development for Mercedes-Benz passenger cars. (…) The importance of VR at Mercedes can be assessed from the fact that the VR center opened a mere three years ago in April 2000, but was doubled in size a year later. Now it’s a critical part of Mercedes’ ambitious plan to make twice as many new models in half the time it did just a few years ago. (Ten new vehicles in the four year period ending with 2005 is the goal.)
Balasubramanian says the initial hurdle that VR had to overcome was convincing executives that were used to seeing and touching clay models that they could make design decisions based solely on 3-D projections. The development of the SLK, he explains, helped accomplish this in that the executives saw that their VR-based decisions were precisely reflected in physical models. Now every development program has a digital phase that simulates packaging, functionality, assembly and durability, and leads directly to the creation of a physical model.
(…) Although a great deal of public attention is on the simulation of entire vehicles, 70% of all VR simulation time at Sindelfingen is centered on component-level work: checking the relationship of parts of one another. Ergonomic studies also consume lots of time in the VR environments known as “CAVEs” (Cave Automatic Virtual Environments), where full-size, 3D images are projected on three walls. For example, to test driver ergonomics, special interior bucks are rolled into the CAVEs that employ force feedback to combine with the VR images and create realistic driving experiences. Also, 800 Sindelfingen workers, who have been classified by height and weight and indentified as test subjects, “drive” the bucks to help Mercedes ensure that future vehicles can be operated by a wide range of people.
(…) While reducing the time and costs associated with building physical prototypes are usually cited as the chief reasons (…) [Balasubramanian] expects that even with the extensive use of VR the development of all-new vehicles will still take between 30 and 40 months. And though this time is significantly shorter than in the pre-VR era and is the key to Mercedes aggressive new model plan, speed is not the main goal. “We are trying to achieve high product maturity,” he says, “We’re not trying to be the fastest.”