If all goes as planned, every Volkswagen dealership from Wolfsburg, Germany, to San Jose, Calif., will look so much alike that consumers will know exactly what is inside before they enter.
Volkswagen of America Inc. is urging VW dealers in the United States to participate in a worldwide program that incorporates specific brand elements into the design of VW stores, said David Wicks, VW director of sales operations.
The focal point of the new design is the dealership portal, done in a cheery yellow with the VW logo. The familiar VW blue-and-white color scheme will be used only in the logo, Wicks said.
Yet the building design is so flexible, he said, that it can accommodate a 25-car showroom in Saudi Arabia and a three-car showroom in Smalltown, U.S.A.
Wicks said the goal of the program is simple: to strengthen the VW brand.
Now that VW sales in the United States are increasing, many dealers find that their existing facilities are outdated, too small or maybe in the wrong place as a result of population shifts, he said.
Volkswagen sold 217,937 vehicles in the United States in 1998, up from 136,093 the previous year. As recently as 1993, the company sold only 49,533 vehicles in the United States.
'This is a great opportunity to invest in the business,' said Wicks.
A SWEET DEAL
The program is voluntary, but VW is offering incentives, said Wicks, who declined to be more specific. Dealers say VW is offering them up to $500,000 for a major redo that incorporates the designated brand elements.
The new dealership showroom floor tile has a circular pattern; vehicles are to be displayed along the circle. There is a display area bathed in lights where a specific vehicle can be showcased.
Behind the cars in the showroom is a wall with a mural of lifestyle scenes. The 14-foot murals will be changed from time to time, Wicks said.
The new program replaces the old 'lollipop' VW sign with a new convex design with interior illumination.
Other elements suggested by VW include customer work areas, a children's play area and refreshments.
STARTED IN GERMANY
The program began in Wolfsburg in the mid-1990s; VW began telling dealers in the United States about the program six months ago, Wicks said.
Five or six U.S. dealers are in some stage of building or refurbishing a dealership to factory specifications, 100 more have committed to initial surveys and about 260 have asked for more details, Wicks said.
Bob Lewis, owner of Bob Lewis Volkswagen in San Jose, Calif., expects to start construction soon.
'Some manufacturers want the dealers to do things that won't increase the bottom line,' said Lewis, who sold 2,000 new and 1,000 used VWs in 1998.
'Volkswagen had dealer input. Our target was under $100 a foot; we did that. I give Volkswagen credit for keeping cost in mind.'