Car manufacturers go Flex

OK, car manufactures go Flex. Will they lose or gain customers after that?

Car manufacturers want to have fancy consumer sites. It’s a RIA world, and having interactive Web sites should bring more people to car dealerships. Bikers to want to see nice looking Web sites. Check out Harley-Davidson’s Web site: http://www.harley-davidson.com . While most of Harley’s site is done in DHTML, go to Motorcycles menu, pick a model, get some pop-corn and enjoy the show. That piece was done in Flash. Isn’t it nice?
Let’s take another site for Mini cars: http://www.miniusa.com , which was also build in Flash and is delivered by Flash Player. It’s also not bad.

You can spot a weird-looking car on the roads. It’s called Scion. Their Web site looks a lot better than the car itself, isn’t it?

A recent addition to the RIA collection is UK’s Volkswagen. This one was done in Flex and was also delivered by Flash Player: http://www.volkswagen.co.uk/ . Excellent artwork – just take a look at how you can customize the wheels or the exterior paint color. Isn’t it something? But something else did not look right… The site was a bit slow, and I was on a fast 30 mbps connection. This got me thinking – the majority of the population will be connecting to this Volkswagen’s site via a lot slower connection lines. What their experience would be?

I decided to make an experiment. I have my cell phone with me that I can also use as a modem via the USB port of my laptop. Luckily, I was in the area of slow connection – www.speedtest.net reported the download speed of only 180kbps. Now we are talking! Welcome to the real world.
I went to this Volkswagen’s Web site and started to wait. During the first minute nothing happened –a white screen with a wait cursor. To make the long story short, I had to wait two minutes and forty five seconds till I was able to use the site. Don’t you this it’s a little too much?

I’d guess that about 25% of people who visit Volkswagen are impulse buyers. They did not open the site because they were really interested in buying specifically Volkswagen. After one minute wait, they’ll abandon this site and go to Volkswagen’s competitors. Does Volkswagen is ready to lose these customers just because they were using cool Flex technology? I don’t think so.

Each RIA project has at least two groups of people involved – designers/artists, and people who know how to program.I know this first hand, because I currently work on a Flex project for yet another large car manufacturer. These applications have a lot of art. Can’t change it, they (creative people) know how to sell. Fine, but it’s good to have people who know how to efficiently program rich Internet applications.In case of Volkswagen, my hat off to creative people and my boo to their application programmers.I’m afraid that poorly programmed RIA will hurt Flex. Volkswagen, do some stress testing and optimize your web site!

Yakov Fain

8 thoughts on “Car manufacturers go Flex

  1. I wonder what the performance is for users in the UK? Wouldn’t that be the target audience?

    I worked for VWoA as a vendor for over 8 years and the one thing i learned was that VAG and the various european divisions had a habit of being behind the curve on tech (minus the marketing/branding front end groups). They were still using SGML to markup all their tech info a year ago after VWoA was on xml by 1998/99. They tend to sign big contracts with big sluggish vendors over there and the timelines suffer. Odds are they just don’t have a good grasp of what the client side is doing and what it needs from the backend performance-wise.

  2. It’s difficult at times being a developer and having to deal with request by designers and clients. They want everything under the sun in a site but they don’t get the problems it will cause to have so much. I consider myself both a designer and a developer but I enjoy programming a lot more so my designs always tend to be on the less is more side of things to avoid as many headaches as possible.

  3. Another site worth taking a look at is Fiat.co.uk (http://ww.fiat.co.uk).

    I have to admit to not being totally partisan, since I was involved in the development of the site. However, I nevertheless believe it to be one of the most accessible, SEO optimised and rich automotive experiences on the internet.

    Load times are very quick and the Car Configurator found on the site not only uses the Fiat group’s product catalogue, but enables you to configure your car in a completely non-linear way – something I’ve not seen anyone else including VW pull off.

    We could have used Flex to build this site, but I’m a strong believer in using the right tool for the job and I have yet to be convinced that building a Flex application is the right solution for a company’s website.

  4. Thanks!

    The site is built in HTML & Javascript. All rich media content was built using Flash CS3, in AS2 for Flash Player 8.

  5. Hi Mr. Yakov,

    I am currently facing the same problem like the Volkswagen website.
    Would you please give some suggestions on how to do Flex optimization?
    Let’s take the Volkswagen case as an example, what steps would you suggest their programmers do?

    Thank you!

  6. Ndi,

    Every site requires analysis to fine the bottlenecks. But in sites like this one, I’d definitely look at image caching, image sizing, modularization of the project, what has to be always on the client, and what can be lazy loaded….
    There’s no simple answer on what’s wrong with that Web site.

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