ELKHART — Anyone looking for a Chevy, GM, Buick or other General Motors brand-vehicle today at a dealership in Elkhart County will be doing it in an environment that will probably be different in a couple of years.
Dzung Nguyen of Goshen Buick GMC summed up the sentiments of many area dealerships when he said of GM’s remodeling push: “It’ll be nice and it will cost a lot.”
It will also mute local flavor at the dealerships.
General Motors has rolled out a program they’re touting as the “most substantial dealer renovation project in GM history, with 88 percent of dealers having either completed or undergoing store renovation,” according to a press release.
One local dealership, Tom Naquin, is undergoing renovations.
Two more, Nguyen’s and McCormick Motors in Nappanee, are about to start.
Another one, Lochmandy, is looking at starting in the next 18 months; while a fifth, Max Myers in Middlebury, is trying to decide whether it’s worth doing.
Thad Naquin said his dealership jumped in on GM’s program. “What we’re trying to do is raise the standard and get the retail experience, get it comparable to an Apple, a Nordstrom. Dealers now are being evaluated against retailers,” he said.
“There’s a little bit of waste inherent in the program, but obviously it’s to have a uniform look at stores across the country,” Naquin said.
Part of that process means giving up the “Tom Naquin” brand that’s been developed over decades. “It kind of takes away the personal components. Every dealership has a personality; some of that’s going away with the homogenous look. I think that’s unfortunate,” Naquin said, though he thinks the final result will look good and will be good for customers, with better waiting areas and showroom areas.
Gordon Moore of McCormick said the uniform design doesn’t fit here as well as it does elsewhere. “This is a design that’s created in southern California by an architectural group, and for southern California, what they laid out works out beautifully, probably.
“For us, it doesn’t work very well at all, so we’re going to spend a lot of money and undo some of the things that really save us energy, so I’m not very happy about that,” Moore said.
While GM touts environmental accolades, like being named a “Green Corporate Citizen” last month and also being named last month the No. 1 automotive user of solar power in the U.S. by the Solar Energy Industries Association, the new design sets back McCormick’s energy-efficiency efforts.
“I’ve got to take down all of my screens that actually provide thermal barrier in the winter time from the cold, from all those massive windows I’ve got in the showroom,” Moore said.
The dealership also has to switch to less efficient lighting in customer areas. “I’m going to have to have sunglasses and sunscreen when I go into my showroom,” he said.
McCormick’s price tag will be about $800,000, and Nguyen expects his to be in that area. Naquin will spend more, but they’re also updating their Nissan dealership in the process.
Nguyen said an upgrade was due for their 30-year-old building, but a simple remodel would’ve been cheaper than what’s needed under the GM program.
“It’s a very consistent, it’s a very clean look. We don’t have a problem with that,” Nguyen said. The problem, he said, is “the requirement is so stringent you can’t have any change with it.
“We’re very small and we’re conservative financially. Because we’re small, for example, the Buick-GMC arch costs $75,000. The dealership in Chicago buys the same thing. We’re very low-volume because it’s a small town. He’s selling hundreds, but we have to pay the same. That’s the part we don’t like, but it’s going to look very nice,” he said.
Craig Lochmandy said their Elkhart dealership is in good shape because they built their store 15 years ago under the GM Image program, a program from which the new program draws.
“Our timing was pretty good with that. If it was a year or two earlier, we probably would not be in such good shape with our facility,” Lochmandy said.
“At some point we have some upgrades we’re going to have to do to our facade,” he said.
“Costs are certainly something we always look at, and want to continue to offer our goods and services at reasonable prices. Not many times does a sign in the yard sell more cars than a particular other sign,” Lochmandy said.
“I understand what they’re trying to do is get some uniform look among their franchises. At the same time, price has to be a factor,” Lochmandy said.
General Motors will pay back dealerships for the costs, but that is tied to quarterly goals over the next seven years, according to the dealers. The dealerships have to foot the up-front bill and hope to get paid back.
That’s why Max Myers Motors hasn’t decided whether to participate, said Neal Myers. “We’re looking into it, still weighing the cost benefit,” he said. “We hope to know in the next year or so.”