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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Dealership Hits Street with Style

Woodland Hills is about to get a snazzy car dealership. An Ontario company is proposing to tear down an existing Lexus facility on Ventura Boulevard and replace it with a modern one better suited for the luxury brand. The current Oremor Automotive Group dealership has a 28,700-square-foot showroom surrounded by parking lots. In its place, the company is proposing a 72,000-square-foot building with a showroom, service bays and three-story garage. Oremor’s investment comes about a year after it bought the dealership at 21701 Ventura Blvd. from Vista Auto Group in December 2011. It has since done well; the location was among the fastest growing Lexus franchises in the United States last year with an 87 percent increase in sales, said Michael Hong, general manager of Lexus of Woodland Hills. “That is an indication in the coming years will see some good growth,” he said. The dealership has added about a dozen workers to Vista’s existing staff and now has 70 employees. Oremor, which operates other dealerships in Ontario, Glendale, Tustin and Fresno, is going through the entitlement process with the city of Los Angeles. Opening of the new facility is at least two years away. The company is investing in a west San Fernando Valley market that is a fertile one for the Toyota Motor Corp. brand, due to its affluent demographic. Competitors include BMW and Mercedes-Benz dealerships, but the nearest Lexus locations are in Thousand Oaks, Van Nuys and Glendale. The current dealership with its large surface lot of parked cars is considered outdated. Instead, dealers now prefer much larger showrooms where all their various models can be displayed inside, said Steve Catalano, a principal with Los Angeles lobbyist firm Kindel Gagan that represents Oremor for the permitting process. “It was driven by Lexus wanting to have an upscale presence and Oremor stepping up to fulfill that,” he said. Growing brand The decision to build the new dealership also comes at a time when the Japanese brand and other luxury cars are recovering from a prolonged downturn due to the recession. There were 45,876 new Lexus vehicles registered in California last year, an increase of 23 percent over the 35,022 new Lexus vehicles registered in 2011, according to the California New Car Dealers Association. The Lexus RX was the best-selling luxury sport utility vehicle in California with 14,451 new vehicles registered during 2012, giving it a 16.7 percent share of the luxury market, according to the association. Other best-selling models were the entry-level IS, the mid-sized ES and IS sports sedan. However, even with those gains, the Lexus only saw its overall market share inch up a tenth of a point to 2.8 percent last year, highlighting the stiff competition it faces. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. in Torrance, which runs U.S. operations, requires Lexus dealers to have a customer lounge with multimedia access and a quiet area to do work, a beverage and snack area, and a children’s play area, said Lexus spokesman Michael Kroll. He noted that is a reflection of the brand’s philosophy to treat customers like they are guests in a home. But the car maker also allows dealers flexibility to express how they are part of the community. “It could be the artwork on the walls that engages the customers,” Kroll said. Chuck Dapoz , an auto industry consultant who operates DealerPick, a Hawthorne marketing services company, said Lexus does well in customer satisfaction surveys. “That is reflected in the facilities themselves. I think Lexus has good training and good standards,” said Dapoz, who drives a Lexus himself. “The expectations are there and the dealers know how to meet those expectations.” At the same time, he said, allowing dealers flexibility to set themselves apart is critical. “Car dealers are not fast food franchises,” he said. “Dealers compete by putting their own names on their buildings. They want their Ford dealership to be different from any other Ford dealer.” Building approvals In its proposal to the city, Oremor is seeking exemption from the Ventura-Cahuenga Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan. It wants more signage than allowed; part of the showroom building’s height will exceed plan limits; and it wants to place the showroom at the street frontage for maximum exposure of the cars to pedestrians and drivers. Oremor also is requesting a change in zoning for part of the property into a commercial use so the new facility can be built on an existing parking lot. A hearing officer with the Los Angeles Department of City Planning will review the application and make a recommendation to the Los Angeles City Council on the zoning change, Catalano said. A date for that hearing has not been scheduled. Getting final city approval for the project could take 12 to 18 months from the time of filing the application, Catalano said. “We are about halfway through. It could be over a year from starting construction,” he said. Catalano has been before the land use committee of the Woodland Hills Warner Center Neighborhood Council three times. The committee gave its support for the new dealership, said Dennis DiBiase, the committee’s vice chair. One area of concern for the committee was the close proximity of the dealership to Woodland Park West, a senior citizen community. Oremor agreed to put in additional landscaping to create a buffer zone, DiBiase said. The committee also was concerned about the ability of drivers to see pedestrians and other vehicles when exiting from the driveway. “We added a condition they put in a right turn only (sign). They adjusted the project according to our requests,” he said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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