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Back To The Future

The growing electric vehicle industry offers new opportunities for designers and retailers alike.

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ARE RETAILERS AND designers thinking enough about the transportation industry and just how impactful it is on our customers? The influence that electric stations will have on fuel/convenience stores of the future – as well as showroom design – is beginning to play out in our day-to-day lives. I challenge us all in the retail design industry to start thinking about all the coming opportunities for us to lead in a sector positioned for high growth: electric vehicles.

Recently, I got to thinking as I was driving my Tesla past its birthplace in Freemont, Calif., about the latest news concerning fuel costs, parts shortages and governmental agencies building out hundreds of thousands of electric vehicle (EV) chargers… which then made me contemplate my own charging experience, often in a parking lot next to a Target or outlet mall. (Why aren’t more merchants talking to the captive audience of those charging EVs?)

During my drive, I happened upon two of the South Bay/Silicon Valley’s juggernaut retail centers, Valley Fair (Santa Clara, Calif.) and Santana Row (San Jose, Calif.).

First at Valley Fair, I got to see Westfield Group’s (Sydney, Australia) reported $1 billion makeover of the mall and, lo and behold, found storefronts for Lucid Motors (Newark, Calif.), Polestar (Gothenburg, Sweden), and ElectraMeccanica (Burnaby, Canada), in addition to Electrify America’s (Reston, Va.) stunning canopied charging center with its signature green glow.

Polestar didn’t do much to promote experience, but rather a momentary walkaround cars that seemed to be guarded by staff versus enthusiasts ready to spread the gospel. Lucid Motors chose to draw its see-through security screen early to, I guess, make us gawk at its enticing showroom.

Polestar dubs itself a design-focused brand featuring cutting-edge technology. Its showroom’s attempt to appear similar to a gallery setting simply didn’t match up to the marketing department’s brand description (or in my opinion, what I would call hyperbole). Its steel wall sections in store were more evocative of a laboratory setting than a brand ready to lead us into the promised land of electric cars.

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Just down from Polestar was Lucid Motors. The manufacturer’s mission is to inspire adaptation of sustainable mobility by creating the most captivating EVs, it espouses in mall literature. It goes on to say that Lucid intends to alter expectations for EVs and offers an elevated digital experience by use of its 4K VR configurator hardware. I do have to say the interiors looked fantastic. The use of wood and inset lighting elevated the product along with its clever angling of a feature car. (Remember, angles read to the eye as movement and draw attention.) Whomever they hired knows good photography and its displays were also well conceived and informative.

ElectraMeccanica, also at Valley Fair, heavily featured the SOLO, a single-seat vehicle. Ideal for an urban commuter, it reportedly offers a range of 100 miles on a full charge, is highway safe and charges at home using a typical outlet. They tout this product as something great for brands offering restaurant delivery or for other similar delivery services. It’s rather odd looking at first glance, but finding a parking spot must be so much easier! They now have showrooms in five U.S. states with 10 locations in California alone.

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Tesla’s Santana Row showroom includes strong messaging and an on-brand color scheme.

Tesla’s Santana Row showroom includes strong messaging and an on-brand color scheme.

Across the street from Valley Fair is Santana Row, a mixed-use center housing Tesla’s flagship. Owner Federal Realty (Rockville, Md.) has developed other notable mixed-use destinations like Bethesda Row in Maryland and The Point near LAX Airport. Unlike some developers, they’re taking advantage of the growing EV segment by creating a shopping adjacent opportunity, something that other mixed-use centers could benefit from post-Covid.

Different from its new competitors across the street, Tesla’s showroom boasts a design maturity. Notwithstanding my own personal belief in the brand, they are due some credit. First the storefront smartly anchors the brand’s aesthetic standards using a red and white color scheme that jumps out to passersby. Its placement of the lighting in the reflected ceiling plan (RCP) almost mimics the lights you might see on a runway, reading to the eye as “take off.” (Using shapes and elements that remind us of movement and speed is exactly what a fast car company should implement in a subtle manner.) Digital signage is well placed and its wall displays help tell the product story with strong illustrations coupled with digital content.

Booming Electric Vehicle Industry Offers New Opportunities for Store Designers
Is everything in the showroom perfect? No. And that’s the opportunity – for us all in this business to build upon good bones and take the brand experience to the next level. Interactive technology is perhaps the most prominent missing element in the Tesla showroom as well as the lack of owner testimonials discussing life as a Tesla owner or general messaging around what day-to-day life is like driving an EV. Where, for instance, is a digital map showing all the Tesla charging stations in the San Francisco Bay area?

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What we all stand to learn and apply from these examples is simple: The EV wave is here and starting to skyrocket just like the cannabis industry did years ago, and there will be many brands in the coming years to take these showroom experiences to other places. Tesla has opened in Santa Monica, Calif., in what will become the world’s largest V3 station. How will the services and retailers nearby respond? The old-school suburban shopping centers as we knew them are dying and leaving behind massive parking lots and footprints that offer up many new, unexplored uses.

In the not-so-distant past, nothing spoke to the future of automobiles like the fabled DeLorean Motor Co. (Detroit). Mostly due to its iconic DeLorean having a starring role in the “Back to the Future” films, the car is a beloved part of our pop culture. And much like the car (and company behind it) was seemingly ahead of its time, the retail experience economy needs to similarly think ahead by embracing and brainstorming how EVs may impact the future of shopping. Meantime, happy driving.

PHOTO GALLERY (15 IMAGES)
📷: Brian Dyches

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Brian Dyches is a Director at Los Angeles-based Corbis (corbisstudio.com). Follow him on Twitter @briandyches.

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