When Coda Automotive (Los Angeles) recently started making electric vehicles and lithium-ion battery systems, a large, freestanding showroom with lots of new cars and slick salespeople was not in the budget. But how else to start retailing a car few have heard of, most don’t understand and many doubt they even want?
The company chose a 900-square-foot storefront in the local Westfield Century City Mall and turned to Los Angeles-based Shook Kelley to create a retail experience that could tell its large story in such a small space.
“We had to make this inviting and alluring, right from the mall entrance,” says design firm principal Kevin Kelley. “We knew this wouldn’t be a destination. In a mall, you’re counting on people who are strolling to stumble upon the store.”
The exterior in the upscale, open-air shopping center begins the story. Large plate-glass windows allow easy sightlines into the store’s information and interactive areas. Above the windows, a façade of unfinished, reclaimed picklewood reinforces the narrative that this is a company with an environmental approach. A sign in the window quotes Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
“Usually, new cars are sold on the personal subtexts of ego, power, sex and vanity,” Kelley says. “We wanted to shift the conversation from the consumer to the world about him, the idea of doing something worthwhile for the planet.”
Much of the conversation deals with some of the negatives. The cars are expensive (in the $37,000 range after tax and state incentives), garages would have to be retrofitted with special plugs (for which permits would be required), and then there is what project manager Paula Garron Lopez calls “range anxiety.”
“Even people who buy into the concept are concerned about how far their cars can go on a single charge,” says the Shook Kelley architect.
To get answers to questions like these, a small “EV lab” – a bar with stools – is found to the left of the entrance and staffed by one of Coda’s “gurus.”
“It’s the ‘bar behavior’ concept,” says Michael Powell, cultural anthropologist at Shook Kelley. “It’s a forum for communication, where people converse and interact and the questions flow more easily.”
Nearby are iPads for visiting the Coda web site; a demonstration battery that lights up with LEDs when it’s being charged; a graphic of the car itself (“To make no mistake that this is a car company,” says Powell); a large Los Angeles-area map demonstrating just how far you can go in 150 miles; and all kinds of tidbits on the environmental movement.
Interested drivers can sign up to test one of the vehicles parked in the Westfield garage. But, as Garron Lopez says, this is not only about the vehicle.
“In this kind of center, you don’t fall in love with the car, you fall in love with the mission,” she says. “We’re selling the opportunity to save the planet – and also to save on some gas purchases.”
Project Source List:
Retailer: Coda Automotive, Los Angeles
Design and Architecture: Shook Kelley, Los Angeles
Audio/Visual: MAD Systems Inc., Orange, Calif.
Fixtures:American Vision Cabinets Inc., Camarillo, Calif.
Furniture: Design Within Reach, Los Angeles
Signage/Graphics: Riot Creative Imaging, Santa Monica, Calif.
Exterior Wood Facade: Trestlewood, Pleasant Grove, Utah