Vellum Venom Vignette: Auto Dealership Design?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
vellum venom vignette auto dealership design

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!)

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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.

  • Mccall52 Mccall52 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?

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  • 3SpeedAutomatic As a side note, have you looked at a Consumers Report lately? In the past, they would compare 3 or 4 station wagons, or compact SUVs, or sedans per edition. Now, auto reporting is reduced to a report on one single vehicle in the entire edition. I guess CR realized that cars are not as important as they once were.
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  • 3SpeedAutomatic Lots of dynamics here:[list][*]people are creatures of habit, they will stick with one or two web sites, one or two magazines, etc; and will only look at something different if recommended by others[/*][*]Generation Y & Z is not "car crazy" like Baby Boomers. We saw a car as freedom and still do. Today, most youth text or face call, and are focused on their cell phone. Some don't even leave the house with virtual learning[/*][*]New car/truck introductions are passé; COVID knocked a hole in car shows; spectacular vehicle introductions are history.[/*][*]I was in the market for a replacement vehicle, but got scared off by the current used and new prices. I'll wait another 12 to 18 months. By that time, the car I was interested in will be obsolete or no longer available. Therefore, no reason to research till the market calms down. [/*][*]the number of auto related web sites has ballooned in the last 10 to 15 years. However, there are a diminishing number of taps on their servers as the Baby Boomers and Gen X fall off the radar scope. [/*][/list]Based on the above, the whole auto publishing industry (magazine, web sites, catalogs, brochures, etc) is taking a hit. The loss of editors and writers is apparent in all of publishing. This is structural, no way around it.
  • Dukeisduke I still think the name Bzzzzzzzzzzt! would have been better.
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