Customers will be able to view BMW's hybrid and electric BMW 'i' cars with augmented reality technology in a world first for car dealerships from Thursday, the manufacturer said.

Using a smartphone, potential buyers can view and interact with a virtual car as if it were standing in front of them.

"In situations where the desired product isn't available on the spot, this visualisation is the next best thing," said BMW executive Andrea Castronovo.

The phones equipped with Google's Tango technology produce a life-size 3D image of the vehicle overlaid on the environment visible through the camera.

Users can open doors, activate lights, or change the interior and exterior colour scheme at the touch of a button.

The pilot project will launch in selected dealerships across 11 of the biggest markets for the BMWi range, including Britain, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the US.

Once the test phase is over, BMW plans to make the application available via Google's Play app store - letting smartphone users conjure up a car wherever they are.

The BMW announcement comes as the giant annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a showcase for car technology in recent years, opens in Las Vegas on Thursday.