The Maple Hill Auto Group is spending $3.5 million to expand and separate the showroom facilities for three of the five automobile franchises it has on Kalamazoo's West Side.
Its Subaru franchise, which has been sharing space with the dealership's Volvo franchise, is getting its own showroom, said Jim VandenBerg, general manager and owner of Maple Hill Auto Group.
Subaru will also have separate parts, service and sales areas. Those will be in the easternmost section of the 5622 W. Main St. dealership, as the structure that houses the Subaru, Hyundai and Volvo franchises grows by about 28,000 square feet to a total of 40,000 square feet.
Construction work that began in August will continue well into 2015. VandenBerg said it includes adding 12 new service bays to the back of the building, and what is now the showroom for the Hyundai franchise will be gutted in May of 2015. The work is being overseen by Portage-based Cornerstone Construction Management.
The Subaru showroom will be separated from showrooms for Hyundai and Volvo by a three-lane entryway whose arched roof will become a dominant feature of the dealership. The three lanes will direct vehicles into separate service areas for each of those automobile nameplates.
A showroom for Volvo will be at the center of the auto group's main building and Hyundai will have a showroom, parts facility and waiting area in the western part of the structure. The structure is being reconfigured to change what has been a service driveway for the car lines, into a state-of-the-art car wash.
Car washes are provided free to customers of the dealership. The new, soft-cloth, conveyor-belt car wash tunnel is expected to accommodate an increase in demand from them as well as automobiles that need to be prepped for sale. VandenBerg said it should be be able to wash up to 90 cars per hour, about five times the number the dealership is currently able to handle.
Of the major expansion, VandenBerg said, "Part of it is Subaru sales are through the roof nationwide."
Sales of Subaru vehicles at Maple Hill have grown from about 200 new and used vehicles six years ago, to about 750 this year.
The Japanese carmaker repositioned its prices about five years and its car line is getting high marks for safety and value from such organizations as J.D. Power & Associates and Consumer Reports.
"Subaru is a niche vehicle but it's really gone mainstream for a lot of their unique features," VandenBerg said.
Its models range from those with starting prices of about $17,000 to those that start at about $34,000. They include the WRX STI, a four-door, four-wheel-drive sedan capable of going 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds.
VandenBerg said Korean car maker Hyundai also wanted the Kalamazoo franchise to have a separate showroom with a separate waiting area.
Speaking of trends with car companies, VandenBerg said, "Across every line, it's what they all want. When their service customer comes in, they want that customer to walk right into their waiting room for just their brand (and) their showroom."
A building the auto group built in 2001 for its Audi and Volkswagen franchises is also growing. Just north of the building for the other franchises, it will grow by about 1,500 square feet, to a total of 22,500 square feet.
"Audi is asking for more separation," VandenBerg said. "They went to a worldwide standard. Every dealer, to be in their top echelon of dealers, has to have a five-car showroom. We have a three-car showroom."
So he said the structure is growing to accommodate that change, to provide two distinctly different showrooms for Audi and Volkswagen, and to provide separate waiting rooms for those franchises.
He said he wants customers to have the best experience at whatever point they have contact with the franchises. He said the new facilities will also provide a great work environment for auto repair technicians and other employees.
Work areas will have air conditioning, ceramic tile floors, noise-control to eliminate ambient noise, and other features.
"We've gone absolutely green," VandenBerg said.
Work bays will have high-speed garage doors to limit the escape of warm arm in the winter and cool air in the summer. Among other things, insulation is being tripled and high-efficiency lights are being installed with the business hoping to reduce its annual heating and cooling costs by 40 percent.
"We're trying to get the work end more appealing and more comfortable for the employees," VandenBerg said.
The business has about 20 auto technicians, about 22 salespeople and managers, and nine support staff members including service advisers, cashiers and others. He said he expects the expansion to allow the dealership to aid 12 to 15 new people, with half of them being auto technicians.
"This has been a pretty good year for car dealers," VandenBerg said.
Maple Hill expects to finish this year with sales for all car brands of about 1,600 new and used vehicles, up from about 1,300 last year.
He said the economic recession hit dealers hard in 2009. As consumers put the brakes on major spending, the average age of cars on American roads rose from about five years to about 10 years.
"People are finally saying I need and want a new car," he said.