Behind the Curtain: Sonic Automotive

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Charlotte -based Sonic Automotive is not only a Fortune 500 company, but one of the largest automotive retailers in the United States. It had to relocate its headquarters facility in August 2011, because of roadway improvements impacting its previous location.

But instead of building from the ground up, ai Design Group, Inc. renovated a 40-year-old, 7-story professional building for Sonic’s new headquarters — just six miles south of Charlotte’s Center City.

With a 15-year history of working together on numerous projects — from dealerships to their previous headquarters — Sonic and ai Design (aiDG) tackled this assignment like all the rest: with a clear vision and tight timeline.

Coming from a fairly closed environment, Sonic executives saw the new headquarters as an opportunity to illustrate the company’s corporate culture and bring to life its mantra, “carpe diem!”

Sonic Automotive’s New HQ

At the same time, they wanted the new offices to feel like home and to avoid a cold, modernist look — while still being forward-thinking. They also had a strong desire to provide meaningful amenities that emphasized employees’ health and well-being throughout.

aiDG’s challenge was to create a clean and modern, yet warm and transparent facility that showcased the company’s commitment to technology, sustainable design, and good health practices. Above all, the new headquarters would need to facilitate a renewed sense of corporate unity.

Sonic Automotive’s Lobby

With more than 100 dealerships spread across 15 states and 26 metro areas, Sonic is a leader within the automotive sales and service industry — especially when it comes to integrating technology into the work flow process. From their central hub in Charlotte, Sonic has built a companywide digital network that allows any associate across the country instant access to product inventory and detailed cost analysis.

With the technology bar already high, how could ai Design take it even higher by improving efficiency and enhancing the overall work environment for Sonic headquarters employees?

The answer to that question had a significant impact on the project and the effects can be seen — and experienced — from the outside in.

Sonic Automotive – Before

The 70’s structure was clad in a sleek, high-performance curtain wall system with a white metal panel base. The highly-transparent skin speaks to a proud, forward-looking corporation with nothing to hide and a strong message to communicate.

Sonic Automotive – After

If first impressions are everything, the lobby doesn’t disappoint. Sonic wanted their automotive manufacturer customers to be greeted in a big way with images of their product lines. So a sleek, 105-inch, HD screen encased in a walnut veneer pylon serves as the centerpiece.

This same content, considered “electronic art,” can be simultaneously delivered to every screen on all seven floors including associate desktops.

Central Work Area

Each elevator lobby incorporates twin HD screens flanking the doors with a vertical orientation for the delivery of custom content, way finding directory signage, and daily announcements. Central conference rooms and soft seating areas that double as centerpieces to each elevator lobby are oriented around walnut veneer pylons with vertical high definition screens, further reinforcing video content for visitors.

Sonic Automotive Lobby, view 2

Adjacent to the lobby on the ground floor, the employees are provided with an expansive, well-equipped exercise facility with spa quality shower and locker areas.   Two trainers are on duty to provide guidance on workout routines and dietary advice, thereby reinforcing Sonic’s commitment to health and well-being.

Sonic Automotive – Gym
Sonic Automotive – Spa, showers
Sonic Automotive – Spa, locker rooms

Conference rooms throughout have electric shades, lighting, video, and audio systems all centrally controlled by interlinked Crestron units. Electronic wall signage at each conference room door allows for real-time meeting reservations and instant access to the room’s schedule. Casual seating areas are positioned in front of each conference room at the elevator lobbies and are designed to facilitate spontaneous collaboration.

Typical offices throughout are provided with floor-to-ceiling, high-performance glass at the exterior – and controlled by mecho shades. Interior office glazing is also floor-to-ceiling allowing as much natural light as possible to filter to the interior with partial walnut privacy panels providing warmth to the overall feel.

Sonic Automotive – Executive Office

The third-floor program includes a combination associate break area with wireless laptop touch-down and lounge seating work areas. The room is sub-dividable and can accommodate simultaneous training sessions with another 105-inch HD screen display and infrastructure for a computer at each training position. Portraits of Sonic’s extended family of general managers are showcased on solid walnut shelving and the warm lounge like aesthetic is designed to reinforce the idea of home.

Sonic Automotive – Break Lounge

The seventh floor, dedicated to the executive team, is anchored by a 25-person boardroom flanked on both sides by soft seating waiting areas — each focused on vertically-oriented, walnut veneer HD monitor pylons.

Inside the board room (behind clear glass), a curving metal ceiling system floats over a custom table outfitted with microphones for audio conferencing. Another 105-inch HD screen occupies one end of the room with state-of-the-art A/V equipment discretely housed in an adjacent room.

Sonic Automotive – Executive Boardroom

Executive offices on this level combine wall-mounted, HD monitors and large writable wall surfaces to create flexible work environments that encourage interaction.

Throughout the building, the use of walnut veneer surrounded by an Earth-tone palette — combined with organically-inspired patterns and furnishings — do a great job of softening the high-tech elements.

Sonic Automotive’s new home — a dramatic transformation from a 70’s-built professional building into a technological showpiece — serves as seven stories of proof that technology plus modern does not have to translate into a cold and impersonal work environment.


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