On a clear day you can see Penske's vision
Edward Lapham is executive editor of Automotive News.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The sculptured urban skyline viewed from the roof of Penske Automotive Group's seven-story Nissan-Infiniti dealership in downtown San Francisco last week was chillingly similar to what I had seen from the roof of a Penske dealership at 11th Avenue and 56th Street in New York, nearly a quarter of a century earlier.
Penske's seven-story Frisco dealership was the launching point for the 2013 Nissan Sentra introduction. Reporters wheeled the shiny compact sedans down the store's winding ramps and into the streets of San Francisco.
The dealership gleamed in the morning sunshine. It opened last spring, 215,000 square feet of well-thought-out space to display, sell, service and store Nissan and Infiniti vehicles. In an earlier incarnation the building was a Chevy dealership.
It takes moxie -- and deep pockets -- to operate a dealership in a city where real estate prices, taxes, fees and incidental service costs seem to grow exponentially.
That's why decades ago independent dealers began abandoning costly, spatially challenged urban stores, moving their franchises to sprawling acreage in suburbia and eventually into exurbia.
Still, Roger Penske's vision for operating a dealership in a bustling downtown area is persistent.
In 1987 Penske acquired a Cadillac franchise in New York that had been operated by the legendary Victor Potamkin and his sons, with General Motors agreeing to add a couple of franchises.
It didn't work out, despite help from GM.
In 1991 Penske relinquished the GM business. It went back to the Potamkins, who kept their GM franchises in the building acquired from GM in 1979.
Three years ago the Potamkins consolidated their Manhattan franchises into another store and sold the 265,000-square-foot building on 11th Avenue to Volkswagen Group of America, which spent an estimated $125 million to open a VW/Audi factory store.
Across America, the skyline may change, but the view remains the same.
You can reach Edward Lapham at email@example.com.