• Dealership building size: 13,600 square feet
• Display bridge size: 4,500 square feet
• Project cost: $4.96 million
• Average monthly new-vehicle sales: 2011: 8; 2012: 45; 2013: 60
LOS ANGELES -- As long as drivers are idling on the perennially congested Interstate 405 freeway, Hani Nassif figures, they may as well be checking out some Hyundais.
Nassif is general manager of Win Hyundai in Carson, Calif., a dealership that recently invested $5 million in a new facility that includes a glass display case to spotlight its products for stalled commuters. The 4,500-square-foot display bridge, set two stories off the ground, accommodates as many as eight vehicles and looks out onto the southbound 405.
At night, an LED projector system splashes the bridge's white background with bright colors that change every minute or so. On Valentine's Day, it's red or pink. On July 4, it would flash red, white and blue.
"We want to have a wow factor," Nassif says.
It's the kind of razzle-dazzle for which Los Angeles is known. Yet it has long eluded Hyundai, a brand that historically has been stuck with second-rate, retrofitted dealership facilities and has underperformed other Asian brands in image-conscious Southern California.
When Nassif and his business partners acquired the dealership in late 2011, he says, it was selling about eight units a month from a showroom that was "a notch above a trailer."
Along with more distinctive vehicle design, dealership construction programs are a big part of Hyundai's efforts to transcend its image as a budget marque, and many underperforming Hyundai dealerships have been sold in recent years to new owners with big plans for the brand. Together, the more attractive vehicle lineup and the upgraded showrooms are beginning to move the needle in the Los Angeles area, Nassif said.
Last year sales at his dealership averaged 60 new cars a month.
In the past, Nassif said, Hyundai attracted bargain hunters with its low-priced new vehicles.
"I can tell you from my circle," he said, "there's no way I would have said 10 years ago that I would have heard somebody wanting to buy a Hyundai. Now I have a lot of friends that have those cars in their garages."
In a statement, a Hyundai spokesman said many of its dealers have responded to the brand's growth over the past five years by building new, renovated or expanded facilities. In the Los Angeles, area, about half of the brand's 30 dealerships are scheduled to have completed facility projects by the end of April, and within two years almost 70 percent of dealerships are expected to have updated facilities, the spokesman said.
Nassif says the main design objective of Win Hyundai's new facility and its glass display bridge was to take advantage of its location, and catch the eye of the thousands of people who travel that stretch of highway every day by appearing as large as or larger than competing Toyota, Honda and Nissan stores nearby.
Cars are hauled up to the bridge on a lift installed underneath a big blue box bearing the Hyundai logo, a required element of Hyundai's showroom design template. Nassif says packaging the lift inside the blue box was a clever move, and one reason why he selected this showroom design from among several proposed architectural concepts.
Beneath the vehicle display bridge is the dealership's main building, a 13,600-square-foot facility with a showroom that dedicates almost half of its floor space to Hyundai's Equus, Genesis and Genesis Coupe premium-vehicle lineup.
A key decision, Nassif said, was to have Win Hyundai serving as general contractor, with an in-house consultant coordinating all the work on the project, from the architects to the contractors.
The arrangement gave Win Hyundai more control over the choice of subcontractors and costs, and flexibility with the design. For example, the architect's original design called for single panes of floor-to-ceiling glass for the dealership's facade. While it would have been visually impressive, the glass panes would have had to be custom-made. Nassif's consultant suggested using two-piece panes that could be bought off the shelf, which was about 40 percent cheaper, Nassif says.
"Typically with contractors you have a lot of change orders," Nassif says. "Every time you change something, they charge you a lot more because it wasn't in the plan. We didn't have that situation because we were the contractors."
Excluding the architecture, land acquisition and permitting costs, the project's final bill totaled about $5 million, coming in about $800,000 under budget and wrapping up on time, Nassif said.
With the showroom completed, sales are continuing to grow. Nassif says average sales have been around 100 new vehicles per month since the facility opened last November.
"I'm very optimistic about the future for Hyundai," Nassif said. "That's really why we did this. We believe in the brand."