Vellum Venom Vignette: Auto Dealership Design?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

I enjoy highlighting automotive design, yet cars aren’t everything: architecture happens. So let’s combine ’em for the world of automotive retailing.

Witness a perfect moment in A.D.D. (Auto Dealer Design): the Mid Century Modern design of Duffield’s Lincoln-Mercury paired with a suicide door Continental. Photographer Julius Schulman did a solid to both man-made, Mad Men worthy items: taking advantage of the facility’s rectilinear-ness, the Continental’s unique doors, a perfect shadow and a pretty girl for scale and perspective.

This is one reason why you love(d) certain car dealerships. Then again, step back, remove the artsy-fartsy elements and let the local marketing change it all.

Apparently Mid-Century design is NOT mass-market retail friendly. Maybe you want the lifestyle of Mr. Schulman’s photograph, but we all know you’re leaving with ‘dat $2168.00 Mercury Comet.

Sadness.

Perhaps it’s time to examine modern dealerships…sporting all that manufacturer-demanded style!

No surprise: BMW does a fantastic job. If the dealer has the real estate, they sport a rotunda that emulates the “four cylinders” of the corporate office. Far from a facade re-skin, this is arguably the best designed dealership plan by the automakers. To wit:

Mercedes’ blue pillars with vanilla- steampunk metal elements in front of the requisite luxury car glass walls doesn’t work. I see it speaking to Local Motors’ quirky mechanical wonders on wheels. While far from offensive, does this work with a somewhat conservative, hood-ornament bedazzled luxury car brand?

Since the Volkswagen Auto Group is far from stuffy and conservative, both the Audi and Porsche boyz make some interesting spaces that emulate their vehicle’s Teutonic designs. Porsche dealers emulate the newer buildings in Porsche’s home in Zuffenhausen quite well. It’s an appealing grouping.

Lexus’ modern, minimalist mushroom-topped buildings had a charm that grew on you…just like the 1990 LS 400. While the textures changed from ribbed pillars and roofs to modern, BMW-like, square paneling, you know a Lexus dealer when you see one.

Unless you visit Escondido California. Wow: a stunning wedge of (mixed use) office building with the Lexus Mushroom in the entryway. This is why America rocks…right?

Infiniti is another story. Their original buildings had a cubist theme rivaling the hipness of the grille-less, belt-buckle face on the original Q45. The new design puts a glass wave of modest elegance to any current building. Not bad, but forgettable compared to other brands. Then again…if the cars are this forgettable…

…but it could be worse…

Oh my damn. Admittedly, the standalone Lincoln dealerships (all 17 of them?) are far better. But the not-expensive, supremely cosmetic facade-upgrades of their blocky entryway do not scream luxury. The black marble is cool, but that’s only one element looking for more. This isn’t a rotund BMW dealership: much like their product, Lincoln buildings are needs a more unique platform.

I was going to say something slightly similar–but less negative–about Cadillac. Until this: cheaper Cadillac buildings have the same tall entryway on a mundane box of a facility, but there’s something refreshing about their lightly colored stone, all that lightly-tinted glass and the supremely traditional Cadillac script logo on top. And when lucky enough to add it to a dealership this round, tall and impressive…well, it’s a done deal. The mix of color and glass seems more inviting and more upscale than the starkness of Lincoln dealers.

So what do you think about A.D.D.? Well, I hope you have a lovely day.

(If the comments section warrants it, I’ll dig into non-luxury brands next time ’round. Come on Son, you know you want it!)

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Jun 05, 2013

    In Cincinnati the Lincoln dealership just took over the old Land Rover-Jag dealer, in a boring grey building. Don't think they did anything except paint it. The LR dealer built a new site, one of their adventure models Also in Cincinnati (NKY) the Lexus RiverCenter still uses the old original design. I can't believe it every time I drive past.

  • Patrick McCall Patrick McCall on Jun 08, 2013

    Can someone fill me in on that creepy, 1960's art-deco Ford facade that Bertel Schmitt likes to use on the U. S. New Car Sales articles?

  • Ronin Let's see the actuals first, then we can decide using science.What has been the effect of auto pollution levels since the 70s when pollution control devices were first introduced? Since the 80s when they were increased?How much has auto pollution specifically been reduced since the introduction of hybrid vehicles? Of e-vehicles?We should well be able to measure the benefits by now, by category of engine. We shouldn't have to continue to just guess the benefits. And if we can't specifically and in detail measure the benefits by now, it should make a rational person wonder if there really are any real world benefits.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Simply put, I like it.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Ah GM, never stop being you. GM is working hard to make FIAT look good.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Top Gear of the 2000's was a fresh concept and very well done. Sadly to say there isn't a TV show concept that doesn't eventually exhaust fresh ideas and, as a result, begins to rehash and wear out once were fresh ideas. The show eventually becomes a pale imitation of itself, then begins to embarrass itself, it will get to a point where it jumps the shark. Top Gear began to get stale, the Clarkson, Hammond and May left and the formula failed - surprise! the presenters were part of the magic. Fast forward many years and Grand Tower is trying hard to be Top Gear but it's all very obviously scripted (it always was by felt spontaneous in its original form), Clarkson, Hammond and May are much older, tired and have become caricatures of themselves. Guys, just stop. You should have stopped 10 years ago. Now you're just screwing with your reputations and legacies.
  • FreedMike Kudos to Toyota for making a legitimately slick looking piece (particularly in metallic cherry red). But PHEVs seem like a very narrow niche to me. Yes, the concept is cool - if you play your cards right you never have to fill up with gas, and the gas engine means you don't have to worry about charging facilities - but the operative words are "if you play your cards right." And PHEVs have all the drawbacks of EVs - spotty charging availability, decreased range in cold conditions, and higher price. Personally, I'd opt for a non plug-in Prius and use the plug-in money to upgrade the trim level. It's slower, but even the base Prius performs roughly on par with a Corolla or Civic, so it's not a dog anymore. But who buys a Prius to go fast in the first place? If I wanted to "go gas free," I'd just buy a BEV. YMMV, of course.
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