The Straits Times
My Lifestyle My Drive #2
14 November 2010
Cheryl Tay checks out the new car showrooms that have been refurbished to provide more comfort and services
GERMAN carmaker Volkswagen was the first in Singapore to start a direct dealership when it set up retail operations here in February 2007. After undergoing a $5 million makeover of its main showroom in Alexandra Road last year where it increased its facility by 75 per cent, Volkswagen spent another $1.5 million this year to complete a major expansion.
It took over the Renault showroom and occupied the entire four-storey building. It further enlarged its workshop area by 111 per cent. Parking spaces have also been increased by 100 per cent. The showroom area now displays up to 26 cars on one level and the new features include a technology corner, a heritage wall and a dedicated Volkswagen R performance section.
“Volkswagen Group Singapore has made several strategic investments in its facilities over the last few years. It is important that our customers feel comfortable both in terms of sales and aftersales,” says Dr Zeno Kerschbaumer, managing director of Volkswagen Group Singapore. “We need to cater to both our expanding ownership base and the larger product range we are offering to customers. During the last expansion, for instance, the majority of additional space was dedicated to the aftersales areas.”
It is not unusual for automotive companies to invest huge resources to instill confidence in customers as well as produce a credible im- age for the brands they represent. For example, HKS Garage R pumped in $10 million in its 25,000 sq-ft one-stop facility at 422 Tagore Industrial Avenue that was officially opened in 2008.
HKS Garage R offers a comprehensive range of automotive services under one roof: performance upgrades and customisation of cars, regular car servicing and maintenance, new and used car sales, building race-specified engines and cars, distribution of performance parts and accessories to the region as well as providing technical assistance and troubleshooting for their dealers. Key features of the facility include a car display area on the second floor, a servicing and workshop area as well as an accessories shop on the first level and HKS Technical Factory facilities behind it.
Mr Lawrence Lee, managing director of Fong Mui Garage R Trading, says: “The automotive industry is largely technology-driven and we have to keep up with times. Investing in such a facility caters to customersâ€™ convenience as well as confidence, and it adds to our credibility and commitment to the business. Also, as the exclusive representative of Japanese aftermarket performance industry leader HKS, we are an extension of the brand and hence it is our responsibility to project the right image.”
A more recent case is the BMW M showroom, which opened in August at Teban Gardens. Choosing to be located away from the automotive hub in Alexandra and Leng Kee, approximately $7 million were invested to develop the Munich Automobiles BMW M Showroom and Service Centre. The showroom has a glass screen for owners to see their cars being repaired and serviced.
“We chose to be in Teban Gardens so as to offer the growing number of BMW owners the opportunity to service their vehicle in a brand new environment in the West. The brand new service centre has fully air-conditioned service bays, and state-of-the-art diagnostic tools like the piston hoist, which we are the first workshop to use,” says Mr Joel Chang, executive director of Munich Automobiles, the authorised dealer for the BMW M division in Singapore.
The other showrooms that were refurbished include Malayan Motors’ $3 million conversion of part of its Leng Kee Road property to represent the Jaguar and Land Rover brands in one place. It is the first combined Jaguar and Rover showroom in the world and it sits next to the Bentley marque in the same building.
Mazda Motor Singapore also opened its second showroom at 315 Alexandra Road in February this year. Renovated at a cost of more than $1 million, this 19,500 sq-ft showroom is three times larger than its existing one at Macpherson and it houses over 14,600 sq ft of workshop space with 17 service bays.
The Audi Used Car Centre by Audi Singapore and authorised dealer Premium Automobiles and the Eurokars Pre-Owned showroom were opened in February.
Despite the shrinking passenger car market and lower COE quotas, expect two new showrooms at Leng Kee in 2012. Housing brands like Porsche, Rolls Royce, MINI, Saab and Opel, the Eurokars City Centre, which occupies 7,100 sq m of land space, is expected to be completed in early 2012.
Another spectacular establishment to look forward to is the $70 million (excluding land cost) Audi Terminal in two years’ time.
Rolling out large funds to enhance showrooms will lose its effectiveness if the refurbishment is not matched with excellent service standards. Mr Tristan Toh, who was shopping for his first car last year, visited several showrooms to have a look at options but decided to delay his purchase after meeting over-persuasive sales personnel in some showrooms.
Says the 29-year-old systems analyst: “The sales people were probably trying to be helpful as it was my first time buying a car. However, some ended up being over-enthusiastic while others felt that I was not a potentially big customer. I remember being ignored by a particular Korean car distributor and that made me drop the brand completely. I guess there’s no point spending tons of money to invest in a beautiful showroom if there’s no service standard.”
Such cases are not uncommon, with car shoppers deciding not to go ahead with a particular car model purchase due to the inferior service quality. Mr Nigel Chen, 28, a marketing executive, says: “It’s good that effort is being put into upgrading the showrooms so that the designs are not dated. However, the cars are still the main focus of a showroom, so as much as the design and presentation of a showroom can influence the car buying decision, it is still secondary to the cars.”
Agreeing, Mr Adam Toh, 31, a creative director, says: “The atmosphere of the showroom and how the cars are exhibited is important. Generally, when I enter a particular brand’s showroom, I already know which specific models I’m keen on, so the service I receive will help me decide better. A good showroom is one that provides trust, assurance and reliability to customers as well as to the brand principal, showing commitment for the long haul. In addition to improving brand image, owners of these cars will also feel proud and motivated. I won’t deny that if the shop front is unappealing and uninsviting, I would think twice about stepping in. But ultimately, visual and aesthetic appeal has its limits. Good service makes all the difference and it’s the people that matter most.”