Luxury auto mall opens in Huntersville

by Katie Orlando

HUNTERSVILLE – Area residents will have easier access to their next luxury car and service now that Rick Hendrick is expanding his Charlotte-based, 12-state, 79 dealership automotive empire to north Mecklenburg.

Hendrick Luxury Auto Mall at Northlake, comprising a BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz dealership, opened Tuesday, April 24. The dealerships, at 10720 Northlake Auto Plaza Blvd., near the intersection of Interstate 485 and N.C. 115, will serve the Lake Norman area, expanding from Hendrick’s Independence Boulevard dealerships in Charlotte.

The $55 million investment will bring 137 jobs to Huntersville, Hendrick Auto representative Kendra Jacobs said.

Hendrick has filled those positions with veteran employees from Independence dealerships and Hendrick businesses around the state.

“Bricks and mortar don’t make a dealership. It’s the people that make the dealership,” Market Area Vice President John Desmond said. All auto mall employees have been promoted from within to provide customers with the “true Hendrick experience from day one.”

The project has created jobs in the Charlotte region, with hiring at the three Independence Boulevard dealerships to backfill open positions.

Cliff Spangler will manage Northlake BMW after serving as new car manager at the Independence BMW.

Former Hendrick Lexus Independence service director Chris Calder will lead Lexus Northlake, and new Mercedes-Benz Northlake General Manager Brian Porta comes from Hendrick Motors of Hickory.

Hendrick and his staff are banking on demand that’s built up in the area over recent years of belt-tightening. Signs are already supporting that projection.

More than 300 service appointments were locked in before the dealerships opened, websites went live or phones were hooked up, Desmond said.

As for sales, Hendrick thinks these numbers will follow service.

“Service always comes first,” Hendrick said. “With the population that’s up here at the lake, we’ve identified some 7,000 customers that need to be serviced. We think the timing’s right and the market’s right.”

Experts say the auto industry is recovering. recently raised its projection of 2012 new vehicle sales to 14.4 million from 13.6 million after first quarter sales exceeded expectations.

The luxury auto mall has been on Hendrick drawing boards for a decade. Halted construction of I-485 as the economy stalled in 2008 delayed the project, which Desmond said was a blessing in disguise.

“We feel it’s impeccable timing,” Desmond said. “We’re very lucky to be right here… this is a destination location.”

Hendrick Luxury Auto Mall has a three-year agreement with nearby Northlake Mall to share services and customers. A shuttle service will run between the auto and shopping malls every hour on the hour, so customers can shop while dealerships service their cars.

Hendrick will provide a free valet service at Northlake and staff a concierge desk inside the mall.

David Eve, of REDLINE Design Group, designed the auto mall, which broke ground in 2005. The elevated boulevard and pedestrian-friendly design encourage customers to park and walk around dealership lots without drowning in a one-level sea of cars. Eve also worked with Hendrick and the three luxury companies on unique designs for the individual dealership buildings to reflect unique corporate identities.

The blue tones in the Lexus service area play up the brand’s flashy identity. BMW’s showroom is wide open, with a waiting area and meeting spaces open and connected. The Mercedes-Benz dealership invites customers to get comfortable with smaller spaces, private meeting areas, earth tones and a fireplace.

The mall will eventually include a gas station and convenience store, with zoning for additional luxury dealerships.

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