Top 5 Challenges of Auto Dealership Construction


Commercial construction comes with inherent challenges, but each industry has their own specific items that tend to crop up during planning and building. Auto dealership construction is common at Perlo, with both new construction and renovations a part of our building portfolio.

The construction of auto dealerships often involves high-end finishes, unique details, and a mix of retail, service and office spaces, resulting in a finished project that shows off the talents of a variety of craftspeople. More importantly, an excellent customer experience that ultimately sells vehicles, brings in revenue for the dealer, and builds brand loyalty with the customer to keep them coming back time and time again.

Auto dealerships are directed to complete construction according to their associated manufacturers. Like most corporations, they must keep current with the brand standards or risk losing their ability to sell for that brand. This means that in addition to the original building construction, dealerships are required to remodel at certain intervals to keep their branding up to date. 

Today, we’ll share our first-hand experiences with the challenges that dealers face when renovating and/or building auto dealerships in the Pacific Northwest.

Finding the Right Builder

In commercial construction, ownership varies from individuals to large corporations, or professional development companies with each of these entity types managing the process of building differently. In our experience, most auto dealerships are privately owned and because of that, the journey is very personal. Private owners generally like to be very hands-on, and look to their general contractor to walk them through the entire building process, reinforcing the importance of finding a reputable building contractor.

With great team members on board, including the general contractor managing the project, owners can be walked through all the phases of their work, including:


Construction Management

  • Safety
  • Temporary protection
  • Stormwater management
  • Subcontractor and materials procurement
  • Building construction management
  • Inspection coordination & permit management


  • Complete documentation and as-builts
  • Warranty repairs
  • Permit closeout

The right general contractor will make the process feel easy, minimizing owner decisions, coordinating all parties and clarifying expectations for the owner.

Requirements From Auto Manufacturers Conflict with Local Codes

As previously mentioned, the auto manufacturers have brand standards that must be followed in constructing or renovating dealerships. The manufacturers create design standards that must apply to all dealerships across the United States for brand consistency. While some exceptions can be made to accommodate local ordinances, the process to achieve permission to deviate can be long.

Some examples of auto dealership construction challenges that we have experienced include:

Brand Requirement

Manufacturer’s requirements to include large storefront systems for showrooms.

Manufacturers dictate a certain number of vehicles be present on the lot.

Brand colors must be included in finishes

Local jurisdictions include requirements for landscaping, often with trees and other vegetation.

Most auto dealerships want to use as much of their real estate for parking their vehicles.


Local energy efficiency requirements for the building code didn’t allow for the large glass areas.

Local ordinances don’t allow for merchandise to be visible to the public unless behind a storefront.

Local ordinances only allow for certain color schemes on the exterior of buildings.

Auto dealers don’t want leaves falling on cars that are for sale, or for public views to be blocked.

Local codes often require detention ponds to manage stormwater runoff, which may take up valuable car parking space. While there are other options to contain stormwater, such as underground detention chambers, local jurisdictions prefer above-ground ponds.

These items can sometimes be negotiated with the jurisdiction, but often they require negotiating with the manufacturers to receive a variance to their design. A good architect and contracting firm can help navigate these challenges, particularly when they’re brought onto the team very early in the schematic design phase.

High-end Finishes for Auto Dealerships

Auto dealerships often include many premier finishes to wow their customers, sometimes as complex and sophisticated as the nicest hotels or office spaces.

Common finishes include:

  • Tile flooring with epoxy grout
  • Epoxy coatings
  • Level 5 smooth drywall, sometimes curved or sloped
  • Large glass window systems
  • Metal cladding at the exterior
  • Espresso stations with customer lounge areas
  • Solid surface countertops and custom casework
  • Phone and computer charging stations
  • Specialty wall art and/or décor

In order to complete the installation of these specialty finishes, contractors must engage early in the design and preconstruction process to procure materials and subcontractors that are capable of this type of finish work. There are certain suppliers and subcontractors that specialize in high-end finishes of this nature. Bringing those trade partners in very quickly following the procurement of a general contractor can help to identify lead time or constructability issues that may exist so that optimal solutions can be identified. 

In addition to finding the right team members for these projects, it’s also critical that the general contractor have experience with scheduling this kind of work and protecting the finished product while multiple trades are onsite.

Occupied Sites, Safety and Logistics Concerns in Auto Dealership Construction

Many auto dealerships are remodels of existing properties that are already fully functioning and open to the public. A large part of our job is to ensure that the dealership can remain open for business and safe to its patrons. Therefore, site logistics and planning for safety are crucial in the planning of the work.

Our teams spend a considerable amount of time looking at a variety of facets for logistical concerns:

Foot and Auto Traffic Routing

  • Ingress and egress for both pedestrians and vehicles must be maintained for the duration of construction.
  • Clear signage to direct the traffic flow that is clean, professional and clear for visitors must be installed.

Construction Office and Temp Operation Areas

  • Depending on the size and scope of the work, the construction teams will want a mobile office space to direct the work.
  • If the operating office and reception areas are to be remodeled, the owner may choose to move a mobile office space onsite for employees and customers.

Site Safety

  • Particular care must be given to provide barricades to separate construction from the public.
  • Construction crews must contain noise, dust and debris.

Safety is part of the planning process as well as an ongoing discussion with all team members for the duration of the work. This includes daily site huddles, site walks by our supervision and safety teams at regular intervals, and communication of all safety planning to the onsite employees and ownership teams.     

Ongoing Maintenance & Building Element Changes

In addition to new construction or significant remodels, auto dealerships need to engage in regular maintenance of their buildings. Like all commercial buildings, tasks such as roof maintenance, parking lot cleaning, re-painting, caulking, overhead door maintenance and routine mechanical, electrical and plumbing work should be a regular part of building maintenance.

Additionally, ongoing repairs due to public access may need to take place. With significant vehicular traffic, it’s common that the buildings are damaged due to impacts from vehicles. To prevent building damage, the design and construction teams will strategically place bollards or other features like curbs to protect the structure from the impact.

Owners may also find that some elements of the building must change over time. Adding vestibules, auto delivery areas, expanding service areas or adding electric vehicle charging stations may all be components that are added post-construction.

A good construction team understands the life cycle of a building and can help with larger construction needs, but also the ongoing maintenance and building adjustments that a dealership may need. Learn more about our Special Projects Group and their dedication to the maintenance and repairs of all existing commercial buildings.

Final Thoughts

Auto dealership construction is unique and while there are inherent challenges, constructing dealerships is rewarding in that the finished product is pleasing to the eye and a proud space for their owners.

If you’re considering work on your auto dealership, please contact our team today.