By on June 30, 2013


In our last installment, we focused on the fancy and frilly world of premium car dealership design. A place where corporately-mandated building design matches (hopefully) the quality materials of said corporation’s luxury car…adding to the experience for would-be customers.

The same is true for lower priced, more approachable brands: except when the Bass Pro Shop influenced Mark Heitz Chevrolet takes the fight against The Man to new “Heitz”…and loses. According to the David Stanley Facebook page (above photo), the great outdoors is still there…but what’s gonna happen once the RenCen Boyz have their way with this building? 

(photo courtesy: Something a bit like this.  An oversized blue McMansion facade for the entryway and silver square paneling almost everywhere else.  Which is a common theme in non-luxury dealerships: the BMW silver panels have been mainstream design fixtures for years. It, like i-Drive dashboard controls, is an innovation that seemingly must spread across the land…literally.

While Chevy’s blue and silver theme is unique-ish, the oversized/McMansion entryway facade and silver paneling is a cheap and easy way to give a clean and cohesive look for a brand across the country.

And you will see it with many, many more brands. To wit:

The next step up in GM’s hierarchy: lotsa silver paneling in the McMansion entry with black/white square panels from the remainder of a Buick (Pontiac) GMC dealership.  I must admit, the McMansion entryway is pretty impressive with these dealerships, the arched portion is unique and eye-catching.

And, GMC Sierra notwithstanding, every vehicle within this unique building doesn’t look like a re-badged Chevy, either. Nice.

More silver paneled McMansion-isms here in the world of CJD (Chrysler Jeep Dodge) storefronts.  I actually like the arched-minimalistic theme of this entryway…the only problem with CJD stores are the ridiculous number of signs needed to fully describe a Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram store.

Then again, when you emerge post-bankruptcy in the same shape as Chrysler, having each brand individually represented isn’t a half bad idea.  More to the point, here’s the same dealership showing off all its wares.  If/when a CJD store opens a Fiat franchise on the same property, the branding headache gets even worse.


But seriously, this is getting out of hand…even if Ford’s strong(er than ever) connection to their Teutonic German operations makes the paneling more logical than what’s at Chevy and CJD.  A Ford Mondeo Titanium is just a really cheap BMW 5-er, right?

Right!  So buy a Teutonic Taurus SHO and go pick a fight with a Teutonic M5!

Ford’s McMansion entryway is stylish in a Mr.T-Mohawk-meets-PostIt-Note kinda way, even if the glass treatment presented here isn’t demanded for every Ford storefront. This is the nicest implementation of the silver panel theme: only failing when paired with a Lincoln facade. Ford’s massive overdose of silver paneling clashes with the black and tan marble of said Lincoln Motor Company.

In the world of monkey-see-monkey do designs prevalent in Detroit’s inbred culture–something I briefly, personally witnessed during my tenure at CCS’ design studios–this silver paneling problem begs the question: who started this trend?

And who are the copycats?

Speaking of copycat design, the brand known for copying everyone’s styling queues so well they ripped themselves off for the FJ Cruiser…wait that’s not my point…Toyota dealers also love them some silver paneling.  Yeah, that’s my point.

But Toyota’s red pinstriped McMansion entryway is set to an intimidatingly large-scale with a sweeping form, large enough to (sometimes) hold a car or three. It works, including integration with Scion signage.  This place drives home the fact you are walking into a dealership that sells the well-earned reputation for “Toyota Quality”.  If that’s what you really want.

I have love-hate relationship with Honda-branded dealerships.  Love, because they aren’t demanding silver panels (though this dealer might have it) and wedgy square-ish entryways.  Hate, because the timid white and pale blue doesn’t impress for a brand that (used) to have the most innovative design and engineering on the planet.  From a company that doesn’t (didn’t?) fit the typical corporate auto mold.

But…the light blue sine wave and BMW-like dome for the McMansion entryway is quite unique. Which is great, in this world of inbred design. I just wish they had more impact, like the red-white scheme of Honda’s Canadian dealerships.

421866_143170742518209_889180296_nLeave it to Nissan, the maker of the insane Juke and Cube, to have a very interesting building design!   Thanks to the long and impossibly sleek lattice-work, the typical silver paneling behind looks like more than just a cheap way to modernize a storefront, it looks technical. And precise. And sporty.

This looks like a dealership that would sell a non-Toyota. It looks like what I’d want from Honda. If they still sold 1990’s Civics and Accords with pop-up headlights. But I digress…

What really, REALLY makes a Nissan dealer stand out is their entryway.  It’s not a McMansion-y facade, at least not like the others.  The red internal walls sets the tone for your entrance into the showroom, and if you missed it, that was the same feeling you experienced when you pulled into the lot after seeing their signage.  Impressive.

421866_143170742518209_889180296_nLeave it to Volkswagen, offering some of the cleanest automotive designs at these price points, to buck the silver paneling trend on their stores!  Perhaps they demand looking nothing like a BMW storefront because they…wait…the Germans don’t copy each other’s designs to the point of decades old, stereotypical Detroit inbreeding?  Hmm!

I like VW’s extensive use of glass, and the IKEA-quirky minimalist white entryways.  There’s nothing McMansion here, even if you don’t necessarily know which door takes you into the showroom. Is that a good or bad thing?

I’ve yet to see one of these new Hyundai dealership designs in person, but there’s no silver paneling.  And while the entryway isn’t cheesy, it’s a bit uninspired.  Good enough: a safe design for a company putting out some impressive product these days.

Ditto the new KIA dealerships.  And WOW, is this the future for all KIA dealers? Considering the Audi-influenced Tiger Nose designs on their product, it’s no surprise they are pushing very Audi like designs on their storefronts.  I like the black tiles reserved for the dealership’s name, and the Buick-GMC-like arc that integrates into the entire form. This has potential to be the nicest non-luxury building design!

And we need to…because…

I really, really miss the HUMMER dealership.  Not that I gave a crap about their boxy wagons, although they were rather impressively styled.  These dealerships were stunning! The overriding arch theme meant that a conventional box of a building was not HUMMER worthy.

The gigantic “H” for the entryway’s facade, the extensive use of glass, ballsy aluminum roofing material, and steel I-beams made for a phenomenal SUV dealership. It promised something that perhaps the HUMMER brand itself couldn’t deliver…at least not for the long haul.

Thank you all for reading, have a great Sunday.

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56 Comments on “Vellum Venom Vignette: Auto Dealership Design? (Part II)...”

  • avatar

    Nice piece on something that I’ve never paid much attention to before. Dealership design is important. The MB dealer near me has canary palms in their new car lot and around the main building, but they use mexican palms for the used car lot. I think most important is the interior design. High ceilings, warm atmosphere, and a ton of other things might affect sales?

  • avatar

    “The overriding arch theme meant that a conventional box of a building was not HUMMER worthy.”

    I’m guessing the ribbed aluminum of the curving roof was meant to evoke Quonset huts, though the originals were galvanized steel. Ubiquitously left over after WWII, Quonsets reminded every Boomer’s inner child how overpowering and wealthy America was.

    As an icon in the shamed and multiculti 90’s, they would have proclaimed:

    “C’mon in! It’s still 1945 inside and we just took over the world!”

    • 0 avatar

      The only thing that would have made the “Hummer Arch” more interesting would have been to position one of the giant rock crawlers ascending the arch, because not only is it 1945 and we have we just taken over the world, we are determined to leave our massive tire tracks all over the face of it

    • 0 avatar

      The Quonset hut was cheap, durable and simple to erect. The Hummer that paid homage to it and the buildings they were sold from probably didn’t meet any of those criteria.

      Every now and then, when tooling up I-95, I see, minimally set back from the highway, the Viessmann US headquarters which can be seen here:

      looking all the world like the standard auto dealership. Its all old ideas, based on first half 20th century European design – Bauhaus, etc. I guess it subliminally projects that good old European class and sophistication we’re primed to believe in. Viessmann is pretty far away from cars – they make high end furnaces, boilers and the like.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    That first picture is David Stanley Chevrolet, which is here in Oklahoma. Lately, they’ve been running a radio ad that says (in a hillbilly accent), “You can trade in anything! Horses, guns, knives…even ex-wives! We ain’t scared!” But I do like the ex-wife part. That screaming banshee you used to live with *would* make a great down-payment on a new 2014 Corvette. And if you have an ex-husband that doesn’t pay child support, trade him in for a Tahoe…

    Also, that’s good info on Mark Heitz Chevrolet; I wondered what had happened to them…and why David Stanley suddenly has a Chevy dealership. Before this, the only time I’d heard of David Stanley was the giant Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge/RAM dealership that seems to have “mega-sales” every two weeks.

  • avatar

    The local dealership down the street just completed a two year make over which resulted in an identical ” blue McMansion” as the one pictured above, which I found to be a little uninspired. It may be fine to sell Chevy’s out of, but it is also home to our only GMC/Cadillac dealership within a twenty-five mile radius and would have expected something more befitting of Cadillac’s return to “world standard” goals. I suppose it could have been worse because directly across the street is the Ford/Lincoln dealership (owned by the same family) which pays tribute to the once mighty Lincoln by dedicating a small corner of the showroom (about the size of a two-car garage) by dividing it off with plush carpet, a wrap-around privacy drape, two leather tufted chairs and a faux-crystal chandelier illuminating the one “Lincoln of the week” sitting below… Ooh, can you feel the luxury and prestige?

  • avatar

    A stand-alone Kia dealership…. impressive.

    Mine is about 30% of a Ford/Lincoln. Linclon receives about 10% of the floorspace for a mini-mausoleum; dimmed lighting, a couple upright faux granite slabs and a solitary MKZ.

    The ambience is funereal. All it needs is a speaking Grandpa Munster manikin. “Of course I drive Lincolns, you nincompoop!”

    • 0 avatar

      So, the Lincoln “Show-corner” is a dealership standard? I thought it was just my hick-town’s impression of Lincoln luxury… how embarrassing

      • 0 avatar

        Well, this was only Green Bay, a hick town into which they decided to shoehorn an NFL team. I drive over there fairly often as I have family just a little ways down the lake from it.

        And I have to admit I didn’t look too closely at the Lincoln area; it was actually in the middle of the store and separated Kia from Ford. The silly little shrine they’d set up to venerate/mourn that MKZ may have been blocking a Lincoln or two on it’s other side, but you’d have to work to notice them. Of the two customer entrance points, one was all about Ford, the other Kia.

        For generating an atmosphere and moving metal, the configuration said one thing very clearly: Kia and Ford are going gangbusters. Lincoln needs last rites.

        • 0 avatar

          How can they (Ford) except the public to support Lincoln when they clearly are treating Lincoln like a relative who was only going to stay a few days and ends up living on your couch?

          • 0 avatar

            Sure is a study in different levels of corporate competency isn’t it; the contrast of Lexus/Toyota to Lincoln/Ford?

            I would be fascinated to know what kind of executive minds exist at Ford that think alluding to a long gone era of patrician American wealth and values is a good way to sell something expensive in 2013.

            I guess I’m cursed to spend my life watching Japan and its clones “get it” better than do my own countrymen.

  • avatar

    I have been the sub-contractor on several new and “updated” dealerships…and it is cut-throat. My scope is Division 8; curtainwall, storefront and glazing. On half we do the “route and return panels”.

  • avatar

    I really think TTAC needs to drill down into the clothes and hair styling of the sales people.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe 10 years ago, the local Ford dealer hired women that were near universally large breasted. Can’t say that I thought it was a bad thing. The woman where you paid the repair bill at the service counter was especially hot and dressed to show it. When she leaned forward to give you your paperwork you were treated to a really nice and deep cleavage shot….perhaps that was by design…made paying the bill a bit easier. You don’t see too much of that around these parts anymore…another pleasantry of life slaughtered on the altar of political correctness…

    • 0 avatar

      No dice…sorry. I went to CCS for product design, not FIT for fashion design. :)

  • avatar

    So many shrunk airport terminals, often crammed together on high- traffic strips, make bacon burgers of them all.

  • avatar

    What, no Mazda, no Subaru? I know Subaru’s got corporate guidelines. Don’t know if Mazda does, come to think of it.

    I wonder how some of these guys handle multi-brand stores…

    • 0 avatar

      94-1299 Ka Uka Blvd.
      Waipahu, HI 96797

    • 0 avatar

      They do, I didn’t cover them because this was getting too long…maybe a Part III for the lower-volume, niche brands?

      • 0 avatar

        That could work. Might be worth it to see if the premium brands have similar standards and if they impart any more “premiumness.” And if that’s not a word then it should be.

        Premium stores, niche brands, and multi-brand stores. How does a Chrysler/Dodge/Kia store reconcile? We have one up here, I should get pictures. They also theoretically sell Mitsubishi but don’t really want to admit to it. We also have a Mazda dealer in an old Saturn dealership, it’s too small to modify at corporate whim though. And also a combo Mazda/VW dealership out in Middletown, I’ll be taking a trip out in that direction soon. I think I saw a sign warning about upcoming construction out there…

        We also have an interesting Nissan dealership where the used car building is both bigger and more well-appointed than the new car building.

  • avatar
    Carl Kolchak

    The nearest Ford Dealer to me in the St. Paul suburbs is a converted dairy farm. You can still tell the site’s roots (including a parts department that is an old barn) and I like that it is not another cookie cutter outlet. Probably the reason it is allowed to be this way is that it is an Auto Nation store, and Ford wisely just leaves it alone.

  • avatar

    The local newspaper reported Heitz sold out because he couldn’t tolerate GM’s order to turn his awesome new building (and it’s just as impressive inside) into yet another BestBuyBigBox. So the question is, will Stanley remake the store just to keep the franchise? That won’t be enough to make me run down to scoop up a new Impala or Silverado from their airport-size car lot.

    Can’t help thinking that carmakers have too many executives who worry more about the sizzle than the steak.

    • 0 avatar

      I do not like dealerships all looking the same. We are losing local flavor to bland corporate sameness in most retail/service locations. I personally like car dealers operating out of whatever structure and being themselves. If that means having dancing chickens at one, a live band at another or classic music and stuffy sales staff, so be it. Diversity is strength.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed, I hate that corporate sameness, to me, sameness equates to an anti-consumer based business, its like the one-ford policy it kills the local based taste for a one size fits all policy.
        End up hurting the majority for the minority, and the money saved becomes money lost.

      • 0 avatar

        Back in the late 80s I built a new dealership to house my smalltown Volvo and Subaru franchises, just before those companies began to enforce corporate guidelines. Being in a rather New England-looking town, we put up a Dutch Colonial style building–complete with a veranda overlooking a front lawn and a weather wave on the roof. And despite the extra maintenance, we even left a few trees surrounding the lot. The net effect was something that blended in extremely well with the local vernacular.

        Commencing with the grand opening, I began receiving unexpected thank-yous, from everyone from the local historical society to the arbor society (as well as a great many customers). Just because we didn’t build yet another steel-cladded box, the standard at the time. A decade later when I sold out, the franchises and building were separated and a Honda dealer took up residence. Shortly thereafter, Honda forced the new owner to erect a square facade and clad the entire structure. The end result looked like a smaller version of the white-and-red Honda Canada look in the photo that Sajeev linked. They got their corporate look, but I’ll bet nobody thanked them for it.

        • 0 avatar

          Agreed on the restrictions. My “new” Honda dealer (unlike the one with whom I had dealt for the last 19 years before my broker obtained my 2013 Accord from this new one) is housed in a rather plain, rectilinear structure–five cars and the salesmen in the showroom along with a drink station, separate windowless office for the GM, dealer principal and F&I offices (also windowless) tucked away in a corner (where they can’t pull any of the tricks like pulling your new car outside so you can drool at it while they bend you over), and a couple of waiting rooms, one with a small “play” area and flat screen and a “quiet” one with WiFi where you could get some work done. The parts and service department is at the back–single aisle area with four service bays on each side, plus a small wash/detail station. Service counter to the left, cashier area in one corridor between the showroom, across from the aforementioned “quiet” waiting room. This dealer is far more “personable” than the last one, which I didn’t realize; their service manager and a couple other personnel actually moved to this new, smaller (college)-town dealer, becuase the old place had honestly gotten “too big for their britches.”

          Apparently, my new dealer was either mandated by Honda corporate, or decided of its own accord (I crack myself up..;-) ), to build a new Honda store (just down the street) with the new “look,” and in fact, they may have already moved there.

          My point is simply this: will this dealer keep the “small town” values which have served it well, or are they going to have to pay for the new construction by not offering the same deals as in the past, while lowering their level of service?

  • avatar

    I knew this thread was going to have the HUMMER buildings in it, only way it could have been complete. :)

    Although Hendrick never actually used the signature building, they somehow managed to get by with a standard design building, they kept it packed though.

    I also have no idea when they started that design though, the first dealer being lynch in 1993?

  • avatar

    Hyundais dealership design reminds me of Circuit City, otherwise I’d like to know who silver panelings so popular with dealerships myself.

  • avatar

    So because Honda put pop-up headlights on the Accord and Civic for 25 years ago, they’re now known for having the most innovative design and engineering on the planet? Yeah ok.

    And great job accusing Toyota of “copying” a dealership color when you yourself didn’t even know who started using the silver paneling, which isn’t even a big deal.

  • avatar

    There was one problem with the design of the Hummer dealerships… Here in Wisconsin, there was one that had parking directly adjacent to the end of the arched roof. As you may have heard, we get snow here from time to time and after a large storm, snow tends to melt. Well… that happened and things didn’t end well for a row of new H2s when thousands of pounds of snow and ice came crashing down on them. The clean lines of the arched roof was short lived for that dealership.

  • avatar

    Do “The Lincoln Motor Company” dealerships even exist? I never saw one the last 8 years. Interesting – a motor company without dealerships – where are you supposed to buy Lincolns? Sure they probably sell some at Ford dealerships but people come to Ford dealership to buy Fords. Lincoln pricing seems pretty steep after you turn your head in different direction and see nice premium Fords for much less. After all that fanfare about “The Lincoln Motor Company” and new MKZ it is impossible to find one even in the densely populated urban area like SF Bay area.

    I remember there were standalone Lincoln-Mercury dealerships as late as early 2000s. But they felt less premium and neglected compared with renovated Ford dealerships and also sold Kias, Jeeps and the likes along Lincolns and Mercuries (what the Mercury as a brand was for then?).

    I recently went out to test drive Mazda6 and could not find dealership – there were no signs or any mentioning of Mazda dealership on the street. Finally I turned back and and followed signs leading to Huydai/Nissan/VW/Toyota dealerships thinking that Mazda should be somewhere next to them – and eventually after some desperate driving around was able to spot the Mazda sign on one of the buildings. It was a sad and deserted place. I was a lonely customer and while I was there nobody else came to check out Mazdas. My feeling was that Mazda will not survive even in SF Bay area. I remember felt the same way about Mitsu. The Mitsu dealerships also felt like being run by gangsters.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m thinking having a ford contract probably comes with a “free” Lincoln type deal.

      Like back when dealers advertised things such as, buy a new x, and get a “FREE” Yugo!

      Lincoln being Yugo

      A Lincoln only dealer would never survive, and building a seperate building wouldn’t be very cost efficient, except maybe in Florida.

      • 0 avatar

        The last I read there were still a 172 stand alone Lincoln dealerships, but that was some time ago.

        • 0 avatar

          In this day in age, ignoring dealers that own multiple dealerships, I can only think of one stand alone dealership, with an owner that only sells those vehicles.

          Said brand actually may surprise a few itself, Cadillac.

          Otherwise I don’t think I can think of another… … Actually on second thought there is a small dealer a town over that may be chevy only, I’d have to go look, I can’t remember, but even then it’s likely that they if not now, previously had a second brand, maybe Oldsmobile?
          I’ll have to go check that one out.

          • 0 avatar

            We had a Chevrolet-Oldsmobile-Geo dealer near my hometown when I was growing up.

            Unsurprisingly, it’s just a Chevy dealer now.

      • 0 avatar

        Acura has a standalone dealerships and survive just fine – what is the difference? I have been at Acura dealership and there was nothing special or premium about it. If some artificial brand like Acura can do it why Lincoln which has a rich history and started as a real car manufacturer can not do? My answer is that Japanese are simply smarter and think more about long term.

        • 0 avatar

          I agree the Japanese have generally speaking think and plan far in advance of the West, except for that whole Fukushima thing but if course that wasn’t 100% their fault.

      • 0 avatar

        Pittsburgh had at least four that I knew of (Shults, Benson, South Hills, Demors), one of those has been shut down completely (Demors) two are still working standalones (Benson and South Hills LM). and Shults may have moved its LM in with its Ford operations or still operates independently.

  • avatar

    Its a worldwide thing. BMW stores in Germany which are “free standing”, along with a few VW stores I saw, look just like the ones here. Due to land prices, many euro dealers split, service is in some industrial district, sales along “the strip”.

    One of my local dealers also has the “parts and sales numbers girl” who not only can keep track of the invoices, but could double as a model. One day she was gone (the only good thing about my horrible Acura Stealer) but she was replaced by….a near replica. (That whole dealership looks like it is run by terror, and the owner is a stereotype over dressed, man-makeup type with, I swear, a combover)

  • avatar

    We went to the Chevy dealership in Portsmouth, NH over the weekend to check out the diesel and gas Cruze. I was amazed at how nice it was. It was probably about 2 years old at the most and very well could have been an Audi dealer with some minimal exterior changes. Looks like GM must be laying the smackdown for their dealers to be better positioned to compete with premium brands. The GM dealers in Saco and Portland Maine have the new GM facade, but they’re no where close to the the Portsmouth dealership.

  • avatar

    Maybe Sajeev could publish an article on repurposed Hummer stores. For example, the Bergstrom stores I’ve seen in Wisconsin don’t look half bad.

    Kudos for the dealer principals who agreed to spend millions and build quonset huts with a giant “H” for a facade.

    • 0 avatar

      Twist the H around a little bit and they’d have some pretty epic Honda or Hyundai stores.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d need a lot of photos from across the country to make that work.

    • 0 avatar

      Penske Cadillac / Buick / GMC in Torrance California has the quonset hut structure since they also used to sell Hummer there. It looks like they mostly use it for GMC now, which I suppose works since they’re SUVs as well.

      The dealership is quite large and very nice, but you can tell it was built in circa ’04 and could use an update of the glamor shots around the store. The XLR was cool, but that was ages ago.

  • avatar

    This is a subject that bugs me.

    Why, oh why is it necessary or desirable to make these buildings cookie cutter copies of the brand logo. Architecture needs to be free, to reflect the local style, the local setting. Not plunk down some megabox designed on the other side of the world.

    All the great buildings of the world DO NOT look like everything else. They have a character that fits in one place and one time (having quality buildings obviously from an older time is not a bad thing… should we demolish the Chrysler building?). The desire to dominate the landscape with enormously outsized, corporately designed artifacts displays a kind of arrogance and contempt to the community where it is located.

    Sometimes, truth and beauty wins. Not far from me is a small, colonial era town located in the midst of a large number of real (not Mc..) mansions and estates. The Audi dealer in that town is in a tasteful colonial style two story building with a single brand sign on the outside. Simple. Elegant. And entirely appropriate. The kind of place where you feel like you are negotiating with a local business man, not Walmart.

    Why can’t these corporate dictators understand what the great architects learn early.

    BTW, here is a link to a former Studebaker dealership in NYC with a profoundly elegant design. Not something to be scrapped when the next enfant terrible takes over at headquarters.

    • 0 avatar

      I think this is a situation where a middle ground works best. Having been on a three week road trip from Wilmington, DE to Rapid City, SD and back this summer, I got to see a lot of towns and pass by a lot of dealerships of all stripes and levels of affluence. And as you might expect, the dealerships ran the gamut in terms of size, location, and upkeep.

      To me it seems a no-brainer: if your dealership is neat and in good condition and selling cars, it should be left the hell alone — especially if it’s located in a boutique community that prizes a particular aesthetic.

      Conversely, if a building has more Homer buckets to catch drips from leaky celings than they have cars, or it has postage-stamp bathrooms that can’t accommodate disabled or even super-sized customers and shoppers obviously avoid the place, then it’s time to change.

      With that in mind, I think perhaps each brand should have two related but distinct basic designs. In my opinion, most of the facades here look best on open stretches of four-lane highway where all the dealerships are bunched up “magnificent mile” style. When they get shoehorned into neighborhood dealers all that openness and glass creates dissonance, not excitement.

      This is not rocket surgery.

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