Reaching New Heights

I went for an off-road ride in a Range Rover on the roof of an eight-story New York auto dealership! The vehicle traversed the 225-foot elliptical course in a few minutes, long enough to demonstrate features of the British SUV. The set-up doesn't compare to some of the elaborate off-road courses other Land Rover dealers have built next to their spreads. But in New York City, where every square foot

I went for an off-road ride in a Range Rover — on the roof of an eight-story New York auto dealership!

The vehicle traversed the 225-foot elliptical course in a few minutes, long enough to demonstrate features of the British SUV. The set-up doesn't compare to some of the elaborate off-road courses other Land Rover dealers have built next to their spreads. But in New York City, where every square foot is ultra expensive, a condensed roof-top experience is in order.

The test track is atop Manhattan Auto Group's building. Service manager David Persad took the wheel for our test spin in a 2003 Range Rover. We went up a 10-foot high ramp with a 45-degree angle of approach. The top of the ramp offered a panoramic view of New Jersey and the Hudson River all the way to the George Washington Bridge.

Persad drives about a dozen of these demonstrations daily. Customers are not permitted to drive that particular course themselves. The $36,000 test track is proving to be a profitable investment because many customers become buyers after a loop around the unusual track.

The test course crowns an extraordinary vertical dealership. It's part of the Manhattan Auto Group's unique sales facility that rises eight stories above 11th Avenue between 54th St. and 55 St.

Land Rover is one of six franchises in a building that covers eight acres of showrooms, service areas, parts departments and administrative offices. An internal ramp system allows vehicles to be driven from the street all the way up to the roof.

Gary B. Flom, president and CEO of the Manhattan Auto Group, presides over a multi-dealership that retails every Ford brand except Aston Martin and Volvo. Ford is the majority stockholder in the group that sold more than 4,000 new cars last year. It's on track to surpass that by 12% this year, Flom says.

He's just begun a dynamic renovation of the vintage 1928 building that noted architect Albert Kahn designed for the Packard Motor Car Co.

The new Land Rover test track is built on the roof where Packard had a test track. You can still see cobblestones on the roof surface, remnants of the old test facility.

About $15 million will be poured into the facility, transforming it from an undistinguished industrial building into a structure with an appearance designed to compete with New York's top luxury hotels and apartment houses.

“It will enable us to deliver a unique consumer experience,” Flom says. “It's what Manhattanites expect.”

The project began in November. Flom estimates it will be done in seven months.

The renovated building will feature a new pedestrian-only entrance on 11th Avenue that opens into a promenade with a 30-foot high atrium and a circular balustrade.

A doorman will admit customers. A concierge will direct them here and there. Valet parking will also be available, an important feature in a town where parking is so scarce.

There will also be an upscale cafe. Customers can use high-speed Internet connections at a business center. They can leave their kids at a child care center while shopping for cars.

Browsing will be enhanced in the first outfitters center for Ford SUVs that will feature a rock-climbing wall, as well as kayak, mountain bike and camping stations.

The other brands will also be augmented with dedicated boutiques selling brand name gear, accessories and clothing.

When the building renovations are completed, Flom forecasts sales will soar to 7,000 units annually in a few years.

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