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Architecture + Branding: Chevrolet driving dealer body towards a future under the blue arch

1-Narrowing the focus

In the post-WWII era to around the Nixon presidency, General Motors (GM) dictated much of the American automotive scene.

In the decades since, GM has stumbled and squandered much of their legacy and goodwill through mismanagement, general unresponsiveness to changing market demands and lacklustre product quality. Import brands had chipped away at GM’s market share, and gained significant traction among former Big 3 loyalists. The Great Recession in 2008 unravelled many players in the automotive industry and revealed GM’s own precarious situation. The 2009 quick rinse US government facilitated bankruptcy and bailout were crushing blows to the insular industrial heavyweight.

Forced into folding superfluous brands (Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Hummer, Saturn) and selling off Saab, GM retrenched into a smaller, leaner organization. At the time, the premise that fewer brands would mean that GM could deploy its engineering and marketing efforts in a more focused and targeted fashion held substantial sway. Thus, as GM shuttered several brands, it was actively working to strengthen its remaining core brands (Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC).

2-Facility image

Due in part to the franchise retail agreements with dealerships, the process of winding down brands, or building up brands, is inherently more complex than if GM owned its retail distribution network.

GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet 2130 E Jefferson Ave Detroit MI 3 https___maps.google

Photo: Chevrolet dealership, side 3/4 view, 2130 E Jefferson Ave, Detroit, Michigan (source: maps.google.com)

Mirroring the evolution of the car brand, customer tastes and trends, automotive dealership facility updating and re-branding tends to occur on a multi-year cycle. Varying from cosmetic to complete interior/exterior remodels, the frequency of updates ensures the brand, and the facilities, remain current.

DSC12444 GM Chevrolet - Cadillac Chevrolet Buick GMC 640 Main Street West Hawkesbury ON

Photo: Cadillac Chevrolet Buick GMC dealership (Former Pontiac), front view, 640 Main Street West Hawkesbury, Ontario

However, GM’s dealer body did not fare well against the norm. In 2009, GM’s estimates revealed that 60 percent of its dealerships were built before the mid-1970s (source: source: autonews.com, gmauthority.com). Compared to competitors such as Toyota, Honda, and Volkswagen, Chevrolet, GM’s designated mass-market volume brand, was clearly at a competitive disadvantage. Even more glaring, with roughly 5 percent of dealerships meeting corporate brand standards, Chevrolet posted one of the industry’s lowest marks when GM launched its image program in 2009 (source: source: autonews.com, gmauthority.com).

DSC07615 GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet 1200 E Cumberland Street Dunn NC

Photo: Chevrolet dealership, front view, 1200 E Cumberland Street, Dunn, North Carolina

Undertaking a Herculean effort to transform its dealer network, Chevrolet expects at least 2,500 of its 3,000 dealerships to have completed the voluntary facility upgrade by 2016 (source: autonews.com, gmauthority.com, autoremarketing.com). Drastic and structural in nature, the cost for implementing the GM Facility Image Program/Essential Brand Elements program for dealers is estimated at roughly $3 billion (source: autonews.com, gmauthority.com). Of note, similar programs are also in place for the roughly 1,000 Buick, GMC, and Cadillac dealerships (source: gmauthority.com, northjersey.com).

DSC08142 GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac 3650 Boul des Sources Dollard-des-Ormeaux QC

Photo: Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac dealership (Former Pontiac), front view, 3650 Boulevard des Sources, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebéc

The bold and costly move to strengthen and safeguard the Chevrolet corporate identity and brand image will ultimately replace diversity with unified design elements.

3-Under the Blue Arch

Sleek and modern, the new design attempts to weave the building aesthetic into the marketing message, and propose a modern architectural identity for the Chevrolet brand.

Accentuated by the massive blue coloured arch and canopy, clad in Aluminum Composite Panels (ACM) with ½” to ¾” wide reveals, the new entrance element features clean lines and a crisp machined look (source: Chevrolet Facility Image Design Intent | Version 6.0, Gensler, gmauthority.com, panelguys.com, hdesigngroup.com). Focusing on the arrival component, the entrance strives to become the new focal point for the front/street facing elevation.

GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet 320 North Main Street Medina NY 1 https___maps.google

Photo: Chevrolet dealership, front 3/4 view, 320 North Main Street, Medina, New York (source: maps.google.com)

As such, integrating the blue arch seamlessly into the existing building façade is manifestly the preferred option.

20150329_172011 GM Chevrolet  - Chevrolet Buick GMC 939 St-Laurent Blvd Ottawa ON

Photo: Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac dealership (Former Pontiac), front 3/4 view, 939 St-Laurent Blvd, Ottawa, Ontario

However, working within the limitations and constraints of the existing building stock, the arch element may at times be freestanding.

DSC10749 GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet GMC  1875 St Joseph Blvd Orleans ON

Photo: Chevrolet GMC Buick dealership, front view, 1875 St Joseph Blvd, Orleans, Ontario

In addition to the imposing blue arch, the remainder of the primary building elevations (showroom perimeter and service drive) receive a similar updating by way of new exterior cladding. Silver metallic coloured Aluminum Composite Panels (ACM) at the fascia blend into the new aesthetic at the entrance (source: Chevrolet Facility Image Design Intent | Version 6.0, Gensler, gmauthority.com, panelguys.com, hdesigngroup.com). Furthermore, a blue coloured stripe, roughly 8″ to12″ in height, traces the perimeter along the bottom of the fascia panels and helps to tie to whole ensemble back to the blue arch (source: Chevrolet Facility Image Design Intent | Version 6.0, Gensler, gmauthority.com, panelguys.com, hdesigngroup.com)

GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet 1101 North Church Street Hazelton PA 1 https___maps.google

Photo: Chevrolet dealership, front 3/4 view, 1101 North Church Street, Hazelton, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

The prototypical showroom facade consists of full height, minimally floor to ceiling, storefront glazing system for maximum in/out visibility. Clear gazing, void of tint, colour, hue or UV film, is mandated to allow for better views into the showroom, colour rendition and the ability for car shoppers to browse the inventory (source: Chevrolet Facility Image Design Intent | Version 6.0, Gensler). Without question, a wall of glazing maximizes two-way visibility, increases the perception of safety, adds a sense of airiness and projects an inviting aura.

DSC09493 GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet Route 11 near i481 Cicero NY

Photo: Chevrolet dealership, front view, Route 11 near Interstate 481, Cicero, New York

While much of the showroom/sales floor portion exterior wall surfaces are large swaths of glass, back of the house functions and repair/service areas receive punched windows in opaque wall assemblies, clad in impact resistant materials. As such, materials like Concrete Masonry Units (CMU), brick, and stone, which are non-existent out front, are quite common around the rear and sides.

GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet  6441 Holman Road Stockton CA 1 2014 https___maps.google

Photo: Chevrolet dealership, front 3/4 view, 6441 Holman Road, Stockton, California (source: maps.google.com)

In order to unite the new look and feel of the new dealership design, new signage, wordmark and font accompanies the reinvigourated Chevrolet built aesthetic. New low-profile LED Chevrolet wordmark, logo (gold bowtie), and dealer identification signs, affixed to the masthead of the building façade, replace the outdated signage (source: Chevrolet Facility Image Design Intent | Version 6.0, Gensler). Strategic signage, such as those directing customers towards sales, service, body shop, customer parking areas, and general wayfinding, may also be affixed to the building exterior.

GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet Cadillac 90 Scott Road Waterbury CT 6 https___maps.google

Photo: Chevrolet Cadillac dealership, front view, 90 Scott Road, Waterbury, Connecticut (source: maps.google.com)

Although the revitalized exterior is easier to discern, the interiors have also undergone a dramatic transformation. Fixture, furniture and equipment (FF&E), interior colours, floor and ceiling finishes, lighting, wall compositions, interior doors, windows, and décor items have also been encompassed in, and regimented in this massive redesign (source: Chevrolet Facility Image Design Intent | Version 6.0, Gensler, gmauthority.com, hdesigngroup.com). Attempting to tightly control the Chevrolet brand and message, little has been left to chance, individual tastes or dealer discretion.

20150509_133737 GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet GMC  1875 St Joseph Blvd Orleans ON

Photo: Chevrolet GMC Buick dealership, front/aerial view, 1875 St Joseph Blvd, Orleans, Ontario

Resolute in establishing a unique building design that can also perform marketing communication functions, the bright blue arch, sleek silver fascia, transparent aesthetic, sparse signage, and sweeping changes inside, are progressively becoming Chevrolet’s new calling card.

4-Design elasticity

Actively selling under several different automotive brands/banners, any attempt to establish a singular building form/format that can be replicated ad nauseam would not serve General Motors, or the Chevrolet brand, well.

DSC07549 GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet 3720 Northlake Blvd Lake Park FL

Photo: Chevrolet Buick GMC dealership, front 3/4 view, 3720 Northlake Blvd, Lake Park, Florida

Thus, GM has actually built in some flexibility into the updating process. In multi-brand (multiline) situations, the building adopts the aesthetic and brand image of the dominant brand with signage for the subservient brands located upon the fascia, typically to the extreme right of the entrance feature (source: Chevrolet Facility Image Design Intent | Version 6.0, Gensler).

20150509_101046 GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet Cadillac 6100 Boulevard Décarie Montreal QC

Photo: Chevrolet Cadillac Buick GMC dealership, front 3/4 view, 6100 Boulevard Décarie, Montréal, Québec

Moreover, legacy stores from defunct brands (Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Hummer) seem to benefit from leniency within the Chevrolet’s Essential Brand Elements program.

20150510_175054 GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet 1770 Bank Street Ottawa ON

Photo: Chevrolet (Former Pontiac) dealership, right 3/4 view, 1770 Bank Street, Ottawa, Ontario

20150510_175406 GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet 1770 Bank Street Ottawa ON

Photo: Chevrolet (Former Pontiac) dealership, left 3/4 view, 1770 Bank Street, Ottawa, Ontario

However, elasticity within the design envelope is not to be interpreted for lackadaisical application of the new aesthetic mantra.

GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet 7327 Ritchie Highway Glen Burnie MD 1 https___maps.google

Photo: Chevrolet dealership, front 3/4 view, 7327 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

Case in point, a design that emulated an outdoor enthusiast store rather than the new Chevrolet aesthetic, proved a particular challenge for General Motors, and the franchisee.

GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet 1221 Ed Noble Pkwy Norman OK 1 https___maps.google

Photo: Chevrolet dealership, front view, 1221 Ed Noble Parkway, Norman, Oklahoma (Before renovations) (source: maps.google.com)

After a drawn out battle between the two parties, the franchisee eventually sold the location to another dealer. (source: autoblog.com, autonews.com). Alterations to the exterior in the hopes of adhering, if somewhat haphazardly, to the Essential Brand Elements program, seem to have already been underway.

GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet 1221 Ed Noble Pkwy Norman OK 2 https___maps.google

Photo: Chevrolet dealership, front view, 1221 Ed Noble Parkway, Norman, Oklahoma (During renovations) (source: maps.google.com)

Although not seeking to make all of its dealerships into perfect clones, any likelihood of Chevrolet making the blue arch ubiquitous across the country rests squarely on applying it with a high level of consistency.

5-Swagger of old

Achieving uniformity across its retail dealer network, explicitly beneficial for Chevrolet, is nevertheless not self-evident for individual dealers footing the costly renovation bill.

Described by GM as a “voluntary program”, the implications for dealers opting to not go along, beyond looking less “up-to-date” with the rest of the Chevrolet dealer group, could result in incurring both financial and competitive drawbacks. Incentive money offered by GM for dealers to “buy-in” can range from $50,000 to $100,000 a year for smaller stores, and climb to as much as $1.5 million for larger ones (source: gmauthority.com, brandchannel.com, autonews.com, northjersey.com). Moreover, the additional “cash on the dash” dealer offer could tilt some sales towards renovated dealerships that benefit from a bit more wiggle room on price.

DSC12403 GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet Buick GMC 632 Principale Streeet Casselman ON

Photo: Chevrolet Buick GMC dealership, front view, 632 Principale Street, Casselman, Ontario (During renovations)

DSC12677 GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet Buick GMC 632 Principale Street Casselman ON

Photo: Chevrolet Buick GMC dealership, front view, 632 Principale Street, Casselman, Ontario (After renovations)

Nonetheless, under the auspices of the new branding program, many dealerships must invest north of $1 million to renovate older facilities, or wholly tear them down and build newer facilities in a bid to satisfy GM guidelines (source: northjersey.com, gmauthority.com, autonews.com). As retail appearances and in-store experiences become increasingly important to consumers, Chevrolet, like other automotive brands, will inherently continue to lean on their dealers to make the necessary improvements to execute on the particular brand’s strategic vision (source: brandchannel.com, gmauthority.com).

DSC12690 GM Chevrolet  - Chevrolet Buick GMC 939 St-Laurent Blvd Ottawa ON

Photo: Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac dealership (Former Pontiac), front 3/4 view, 939 St-Laurent Blvd, Ottawa, Ontario (During renovations)

20150329_173418 GM Chevrolet  - Chevrolet Buick GMC 939 St-Laurent Blvd Ottawa ON

Photo: Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac dealership (Former Pontiac), front view, 939 St-Laurent Blvd, Ottawa, Ontario (After renovations)

Emboldened by positive financials, new/redesigned model reveals (Spark, Malibu, Volt, Cruze, and 2016 Camaro), and mostly encouraging feedback regarding the redesign, General Motors (GM) and Chevrolet seem to exhibit a defined vision for the brand (source: autoblog.com, gminsidenews.com, autonews.com).

20150508_170240 GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet brochure

Photo: 2015 Chevrolet model brochure

20150508_170444 GM Chevrolet - Chevrolet Advertising

Photo: Chevrolet newspaper advertisements featuring the “Blue Arch” imagery

Perfectly aligned with its “Under the Blue Arch” advertising campaign, and brandishing their tightly controlled new look into the near-term with renewed swagger and vigour, Chevrolet is evidently all-in on their sleek and modern architectural identity.

 

Disclaimer: All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

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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.

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