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Architecture + Branding: Nissan’s normative approach to dealership design yields a sleek and proprietary aesthetic

1-Who DAT?

Perceptible around the start of the new millennium, Nissan has increasingly developed a reputation as a stalwart of brand image and visual communication consistency. However, this had not always been the case.

Originating in 1928 as holding company Nippon Sangyo (Japan Industries or Nippon Industries), Nissan only entered the automotive manufacturing industry in 1933 (source: wikipedia.org). Nonetheless, the corporate history can be retraced to the first Datsun produced in 1914 (source: nissanusa.com). Founded in 1911, the Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works produced its first automobile, the “DAT”, in 1914, and would later be renamed Kwaishinsha Motorcar Co., Ltd. in 1918, and subsequently DAT Motorcar Co. in 1925 (source: wikipedia.org). The DAT Motorcar Co. would ultimately lead to the incarnation of the Datsun brand name, which became synonymous with the Nissan brand.

Marketed under the Datsun brand name, automobile exports into international markets began in the 1950s, marked by the 1958 debut of the Datsun 1200 sedan in the United States (source: nissanusa.com) Several other models followed in ensuing years, but for many auto enthusiasts, the turning point remains the 1969 introduction of the Datsun 240Z (Nissan Fairlady Z), which cemented the Datsun brand in the American car market collective consciousness.


1971 Nissan 240Z, Series 1 (source: wikipedia.org)

Building on a wave of successive vehicle introductions, and responding to the surging demand for small fuel-efficient vehicles due to the 1973 oil crisis, Nissan would become the top vehicle importer in the United States in the 1970s (source: nissanusa.com).

2-Harmonizing the sales channel

As straightforward as the sales channel may have been in North America, the story was quite different in the Japanese home market. As a holding company, Nissan grew through strategic acquisitions and expansion, eventually controlling dozens of firms, ranking amongst the largest combine in Japan during World War II (source: wikipedia.org). Laden by this history of acquisitions, Nissan forcibly delved profoundly into brand management, marketplace segmentation and sales channel specialization.

In the early years, Japanese consumers were directed to specific dealerships, as each “brand extension” was designed to cater to particular price point/size of vehicle, a strategy similar to General Motors’ “A car for every purse and purpose” mantra.

The list of disparate/distinct dealer networks, “Nissan Store”, “Nissan Bluebird Store”, “Nissan Motor Store”, “Nissan Prince Store”, “Nissan Satio Store”, “Nissan Cheery Store”,  “Nissan Blue Stage”, “Nissan Red Stage”, “Nissan Red and Blue Stage”, “Nissan Diesel”, reads like a timeline of acquisitions and brand/product portfolio alignment (source: wikipedia.org). In step with the evolution of the Japanese automotive market, the product portfolio expanded, and through badge engineering, product lines began to overlap (source: wikipedia.org). The duplication in the product offering began to effectively negate the established ‘walled garden’ retail network. Multi-brand management would eventually give way.


Nissan Red and Blue Stage dealership, Nagano, Japan (source: wikipedia.org)

As such, irrespective of the success of the Datsun brand, Nissan opted to phase out the brand in 1980s, effectively re-branding all Datsun vehicles under the Nissan umbrella. Strengthening its primary brand, the Nissan name would therefore gain more prominence in all brand communication.

Thus, in 2001, Nissan unveiled a multi-year global branding effort, which would initially launch in the ever-important U.S. market, under the “Nissan Retail Environmental Design Program” theme (source: vmsd.com). The program’s objective, by way of signage and aesthetic design, was to align brand image and visual communications to reinforce the Nissan brand position and simplify the messaging for consumers.

DSC11326 Nissan Nissan Dealership US-NY-Clay Route 31 near Soule Road

Nissan Dealership, Route 31 near Soule Road, Clay, New York

Arguably, since the adoption of an overarching brand messaging convention, the Nissan brand has become immediately recognizable.

3-Clean lines. Hidden fasteners.

In an effort to create a singular yet similar dealership network appearance, Nissan has gravitated towards a sleek and streamlined aesthetic which implicitly references and reinforces precision and machined processes.

Striving to minimize visual clutter and create positive first impression, the Nissan dealership experience is ordained from site to sale. Neutral colours and tones, such as grey, silver and white are highly vaunted in the overall composition, along with tactical use of red, ever-present in Nissan brand elements.

DSC00040  Nissan Nissan Dealership CA-QC-Longueuil Rue Saint-Charles Est

Nissan Dealership, Rue Saint-Charles Est, Longueuil, Québec

Exhibiting no overarching discernible geometry, the dealerships tend to focus on basic rectilinear building forms.

DSC11389 Nissan Nissan Dealership CA-QC-St-Eustache Rue Dubois

Nissan Dealership, Rue Dubois, St-Eustache, Québec

The sleek and modern exteriors are achieved in great part through the use pre-fabricated elements such as IMP (insulated metal panels) or ACM (aluminium composite materials), which provide both an exterior finish and thermal properties as part of the building envelope. Dimensionally stable panel sizes, precise horizontal and vertical joint alignment and fastener-free surfaces result in a balanced and cohesive architectural statement.

Additionally, maintaining clean abutments and good alignment of vertical and horizontal jointing between panels and other exterior materials such as EIFS (exterior insulation and finish system), CMU (concrete masonry unit), aluminum ribbed siding, and exterior storefront glazing systems, contribute to enhance the desired sleek facades.

DSC11406 Nissan Nissan Dealership CA-QC-St-Eustache Rue Dubois

Nissan Dealership, Rue Dubois, St-Eustache, Québec

Akin to retail stores, automotive dealerships have a similar predisposition for large glass expanses with facades that provide a level of transparency and unobstructed views to properly display products and encourage consumers to proceed inside the vehicle showroom. At many Nissan dealerships, the storefront glazing systems are framed or book-ended by more substantive exterior cladding materials such as IMP, ACM, or aluminium siding, resulting in large uninterrupted window openings.

DSC00064 Nissan Nissan Dealership CA-QC-Longueuil Rue Saint-Charles Est

Nissan Dealership, Rue Saint-Charles Est, Longueuil, Québec

Further enhancing the clean, polished and technical appearance, distracting building features, such as grilles and diffusers, are dissimulated to match adjacent surfaces. Mechanical units, chillers/cooling towers and HVAC equipment is typically concealed or hidden from view through design of ground level sight lines and parapet concealment.

Site features such as trash dumpsters, refuse and recycling areas end to be sited away from consumer touch points, and enclosed within a fenced area, painted a neutral colour to minimize its visual impact.

Nissan takes great care to attempt to align architecture and design with the product, projecting a sleek, modern, precise, machined aesthetic through contemporary architecture and premium materials that embodies the inherent automotive product qualities and built precision.

4-Exterior brand features

Nissan could hardly make a claim for sleek modern design as its own exclusive domain as other auto manufacturers have also adopted this clean and modern aesthetic.

DSC00084 Nissan KIA Dealership CA-QC-Longueuil Boulevard Roland-Therrien

KIA Dealership, Boulevard Roland-Therrien, Longueuil, Québec

DSC07955 Nissan Land Rover Jaguar Dealership CA-ON-Vaughan near Weston Road

Land Rover Jaguar Dealership, Auto Park Circle near Weston Road, Vaughan, Ontario

Nevertheless, Nissan has instituted several distinct features which differentiate its showrooms from the competition.

In the attempt to standardize the design and present a consistent and uniform dealership image across multiple locations, the entry element, louvers and delivery canopy have been targeted as items to further identify a Nissan brand property.

The entry element sits proud of the main building plane resulting in some surface relief and interest. Designed with enough variability to accommodate right-hand or left-hand orientations, multiple adjacent constructions (ACM, IMP, EIFS, storefront glazing systems), and adaptable enough to be located at a myriad of points along the facade, the entry element can easily be located in the middle, left, or right edge of the facade.

DSC05880 Nissan Nissan Dealership CA-QC-Gatineau Boul St-Joseph near Freeman

Nissan Dealership, Boulevard St-Joseph near Freeman, Gatineau, Québec

Nonetheless, there is a preponderance, especially in new-builds to locate the entry element on the edge of the facade, or corner of the main building face. When lined up along the building edge or corner, the side of the entry element aligns flush with the finished cladding along the side of the building, creating an integrated vertical plane.

DSC06252 Nissan Nissan Dealership US-NY-Cicero Drivers Village

Nissan Dealership, Drivers Village, Cicero, New York

Present in full-scale builds and remodels, the entry element does not have a rigid location along the front elevation. However, it characteristically aligns with the vertical battens in the metal cladding above, and at the vertical edges upon each side, and squares with the horizontal joints as well.

DSC09700 Nissan Nissan Dealership CA-QC-St-Leonard Boul Metropolitain near Boul Viau

Nissan Dealership, Boulevard Métropolitain near Viau, St-Léonard, Québec

Another distinct design feature is the presence of architectural type louvers on the façade, typically stretching across the full width of the showroom’s primary elevation. Louvers may also be located on other portions of the elevations, but serve a subservient design role to those on the primary façade.

DSC08833 Nissan Nissan Dealership CA-ON-Ottawa Hunt Club Road

Nissan Dealership, Hunt Club Road, Ottawa, Ontario

Alignment of the louvers ties in wholly with the entry element, with the bottom louver blade aligned with the entry element soffit.

The louvers’ primary function is purely design, ignoring most of its inherent heating/cooling and light/shade control/modulation properties in order to create a distinct elevation and visually stitch together the desired brand image. Thus, louvers may be located near the top of the glass area, or even wholly above them in front of the metallic wall panels.

DSC10982 Nissan Nissan Dealership FORMER Pontiac CA-ON-Orleans Boul D'Youville

Nissan Dealership FORMER Pontiac (post transformation), Boulevard D’Youville, Orléans, Ontario

DSC06104 Nissan Nissan Dealership FORMER Pontiac CA-ON-Orleans Boul D'Youville

Nissan Dealership FORMER Pontiac (pre-transformation), Boulevard D’Youville, Orléans, Ontario

Although only two design features are widespread, a third, less common feature is the delivery canopy. The New Vehicle Delivery Canopy consists of a dedicated open carport section, grafted onto the main building, which extends the showroom space and creates a reception/delivery area for vehicle delivery and inspection. The open canopy is typically constructed of thin, elegant structural framing pieces, painted in neutral tones, and projects a lithe and dynamic aesthetic, despite its massive size. Complemented  by Nissan brand image components such as louvers and signage, the canopy extends the showroom into the exterior space, showcasing the product in natural full colour spectrum day lighting.

Nissan dealership Mtn View 2100 S Market Street Chattanooga TN 3 https___maps.google

Nissan Dealership, South Market Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Taken together, the entry element, louvers and delivery canopy, help transform the stylish, modern showrooms into a distinguishable Nissan store.

5-Aligning brand touch points

One of the principal tenet of the “Nissan Retail Environmental Design Initiative” (NRDEI) was to regulate and harmonize the Nissan brand customer touch points in a wide-ranging fashion, harmonizing the exterior and the interior environments with the desired brand image.

Enhancing the clean sleek exteriors, outdoor signage is limited in scope, with large channel letters mounted upon the louvers, aligning with the second louver from the bottom. Keeping the exterior uncluttered, the remaining limited brand symbols are concentrated on the entry element.

DSC11413 Nissan Nissan Dealership CA-QC-St-Eustache Rue Dubois

Nissan Dealership, Rue Dubois, St-Eustache, Québec

Likewise, interior signage is also limited, replicating proportions, finishes, colours and fonts of the exterior signage.

Additionally, connectivity and openness are more than buzzwords as the idealized layout affords a visual connection from the customer lounge to the vehicle showroom and service area. A mix of open, semi-private and private sales transaction areas, F&I offices, restrooms, accessories and retail sales areas ring the showroom floor. The cashier, reception and information areas are adjacent to the Entry Element, with the Brand Wall visible from the primary entrance.

DSC11419 Nissan Nissan Dealership CA-QC-St-Eustache Rue Dubois

Nissan Dealership, Rue Dubois, St-Eustache, Québec

DSC11422 Nissan Nissan Dealership CA-QC-St-Eustache Rue Dubois

Nissan Dealership, Rue Dubois, St-Eustache, Québec

With few items left to chance, Nissan has sought to enforce a holistic approach in creating a unique retail environment with most of the Furniture, Fixture & Equipment (FF&E) explicitly laid out in the NREDI guidelines. All customer touch points, millwork, displays, cubicles, desks, counters, tables, chairs, partitions, doors, flooring and ceiling materials, lighting, laminates, paint colours and accent wall(s) are orchestrated to produce a cohesive and consistent brand experience, with the Nissan red playing a central role.

Nissan - Former Nissan dealership Franklin Boulevard Gastonia North Carolina

Nissan Dealership FORMER – Franklin Boulevard, Gastonia, North Carolina (source: gastoniagazette.com)

Nissan Volvo Dealership Vestal Parkway Binghamton NY 1 https___maps.google

Nissan Volvo Dealership, Vestal Parkway, Binghamton, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Automotive dealerships have evolved away from simple generic boxes consisting of a showroom space and signage into fully integrated brand ambassadors that form part of a comprehensive visual communication strategy.

Nissan dealership Team Nissan 70 Keller Street Manchester NH 2 https___maps.google

Nissan Dealership, Keller Street, Manchester, New Hampshire (source: maps.google.com)

By branding their retail stores with such a carefully crafted and manicured architectural identity, Nissan manages to promote a similar and recognizable aesthetic across their many locations, which is both thoroughly modern and unambiguous.


All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.


About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.


One thought on “Architecture + Branding: Nissan’s normative approach to dealership design yields a sleek and proprietary aesthetic

  1. It’s amazing how different a building or structure could look with changes to their glass panels, louvers, etc. It completely transforms a building into something unique, which is great for advertising! Thanks for sharing!

    Posted by Caryl Anne | June 9, 2014, 2:32 pm

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