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Friday, October 27, 2006

How to Show Cars

posted by on October 27 at 11:03 AM

I have a fond memory of the last time I shopped at an auto showroom. I was around nine years old, my single mother’s old red clunking GM had kicked it in the middle of the street outside K-Mart, and I watched as she got tough with a salesman who was trying to blow her over like a pair of walking eyelashes on the subject of a used purple Pontiac. (We had attempted to enlist a beard for the day, but no men had been available, so we trucked around looking for a deal, wearing brown and trying to seem huskily competent.)

I’m sure people are still going into auto showrooms to buy cars these days (evidently, as the NYT reports this week, auto dealerships are looking for design inspirations from theme parks and carnivals), but to me they just seem like a thing of the past, like cigar bars or overnight hair curlers. Even my mother, after two and a half decades of the nightly routine, doesn’t wear those anymore.

What’s funny is that when the new Seattle Art Museum opens downtown in May, it will look like a car dealership. I don’t mean this in a demeaning way: the design deliberately toys with a retail appearance, which may be the most interesting thing about it from the outside. The front wall will be glass, and visible from First Avenue—you can see the line of white Ford Tauruses parked in there now, waiting to be installed—will be Cai Guo-Qiang’s installation Inopportune: Stage One. (To see a short video narrated by the artist of the piece in its original incarnation at Mass MOCA, click here.)

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What's funny is that as new car dealerships try to adapt to the internet and adapt their approach, their tactics are still the same: bait and switch, make like you don't have or can't get the model when you do or it's actually available, pile on add-ons when possible, try to sell the shittiest car on the lot and so on.

Don't think buying a car is that much easier or better. In most cases, it's not.

Posted by Gomez | October 27, 2006 11:41 AM

Car lots used to be great architecture. The old Lincoln dealer down on Westlake for example, and the many, many fine Googie examples around the country. Now, they pretty much all suck, though some high-end dealers are trying to do a little modern style; see Carter Audi in Ballard (across the street from the VW side).

I wish your mom could come with me when I shop for cars, Jen; I'm the worst haggler in the world. I'm likely to come out with gems like "Oh, is that all?", "blue smoke, that's the kind that's not a problem, right?", "I'll bet we'll get used to the smell" and "ooh, it's green, I want it!"

Posted by Fnarf | October 27, 2006 11:49 AM

Then it will match Benaroya, which looks like an oversized car dealership from 2nd avenue.

The real architecture buzz in town is about the accidental swapping of plans by a stoned bike messenger that led to the construction of a prison intended for Grant County at the corner of Broadway and John.

Posted by rodrigo | October 28, 2006 5:35 PM

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