Automakers tweak car designs nearly every model year, but their retailing hasn't changed much since Caddies had fins. The basic strategy: Make customers tromp through acres of cars into showrooms crammed with more, to be accosted by sharks on commission.
Now Nissan's Infiniti division is overhauling the look and strategy of its dealerships, starting with what may be the world's first vertical showroom in Seoul, Korea. Orchestrated by design firm Lippincott Mercer and inspired by upscale brands such as Coach and W Hotels, the new look acknowledges that luxury-car shoppers crave, yes, intelligence.
Customers enter the Seoul store to find a relaxed, hotel-like lobby featuring just two vehicles. The rest are on the top two floors in a sleek, airy setting meant to let shoppers browse at their own pace—as in an art gallery. In between, there's a lounge for people mulling purchases or having their cars serviced.
Infiniti is rolling out nine such locations, including its first U.S. store, in Scottsdale, Arizona, set to open this summer. Most will be housed in one- or two-story buildings—the vertical layout is peculiar to Seoul and its tight real-estate market. But they'll hew to the essential design principles. Now if only Infiniti could redesign car salesmen.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.