Vellum Venom Vignette: Auto Dealership Design? (Part II)

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

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?

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.

Leave 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.

Leave 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.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Gessvt Gessvt on Jul 01, 2013

    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.

    • See 2 previous
    • Sckid213 Sckid213 on Jul 01, 2013

      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.

  • Pragmatist Pragmatist on Jul 05, 2013

    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.

    • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Aug 05, 2013

      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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