WASHINGTON - Contemplation areas, oh-so-Japanese islands of peace in Infiniti showrooms, are headed for the museum of automotive retailing fads.
Mark McNabb, general manager of Infiniti Division, said here last week that the areas are being eliminated as part of a franchise-wide remodeling of stores in the next three years. The division's dealerships, many unchanged from the brand's 1989 inception, are outdated and need a fresh look, he said.
More practically, elimination of the areas will yield space for two additional vehicles in the showroom, a major bonus considering Infiniti's expanding lineup. In addition to the hot-selling G35 sedan, which debuted in March, Infiniti will add the G35 coupe, M45 sedan and FX45 sport wagon to its lineup of three other sedans and one sport-utility in the next 12 months.
"The space was set up on the premise of less pressure to give people a little bit more breathing room," McNabb said. "But now we've decided we need the space, number one. Number two, the sight lines were difficult for being able to see the lot, being able to see the showroom, which was important to our dealers."
McNabb referred to the shoji screens that surround the contemplation areas. Intended to provide privacy for customers considering purchases, they also act as visual obstacles for dealer personnel.
"So, we decided, time to go," Mc- Nabb said in an interview after an appearance Tuesday, May 14, before automotive writers.
The dealership remodeling is expected to cost an average of about $250,000 a store. The dealer will pay most of it. Infiniti will contribute 30 percent of the cost of furniture and fixtures, McNabb said. Construction costs will vary by location.
Dealers are not required to do the makeovers, McNabb said. But when a manufacturer establishes a new design theme for its dealerships, store owners tend to go along.
"Without a doubt you have to work with them," said Vance Moore, general manager of Parkway Infiniti in Little Rock, Ark. Cooperating with a manufacturer is easier when the company is providing popular products and making wise business decisions, he added.
"Infiniti management has been doing a good job," Moore said.
Infiniti has 158 dealers. With volume on the rise, it may add a few in selected markets, but not a great number, McNabb said.
He predicted U.S. sales will reach 95,000 this fiscal year, which ends March 31, up 36 percent from the previous year.