NEW YORK -- There is no parking lot outside the Volkswagen and Audi stores that opened side by side last year in Manhattan's main dealership district.
Parking on the street, for those lucky enough to find a spot, means popping $3.50 an hour into a parking meter. So Open Road Auto Group, the dealership group that leases the building from Volkswagen Group and operates both stores, offers free valet parking and shuttle service to all visitors, cramming cars into a shared seven-story service shop behind the separate VW and Audi showrooms.
A customer once dropped off a car at the dealership and left for a weeklong cruise. Dealership employees carried the customer's suitcases across the West Side Highway to a cruise ship terminal on the Hudson River, said Michael Morais, Chief Operations Officer of Open Road.
Dealership employees must put up with the occasional abuse of the valet service, Morais said. That is part of living up to the expectations of VW and Audi, which invested $135 million in the stores and see them as test beds for new retail ideas.
"We have to go above and beyond the expectations of the customer," Morais said. "That's really what it all boils down to. That's our role in this project."
Volkswagen and Audi will not start requiring free valet parking in every suburban auto mall, executives said. Still, it is just the type of service that car companies, especially luxury brands, are pushing their dealers to embrace to win over car buyers.