The Era of the Luxury Car Clubhouse Has Arrived
From New York to Malibu, the world's most coveted car brands are building experiential gathering grounds for owners and enthusiasts
Luxury consumer goods of any variety are about more than the products themselves. High-end brands aren’t just about what they make, but what they represent. That’s why they sell better as their price increases: the more aspirational a product is, the more inherently valuable it is, because of the soaring price tag (there’s a name for this phenomenon: Veblen goods).
No industry knows this better than luxury autos, many of which famously accrue value the older they get. But no longer is that feeling constrained to the vehicles themselves. Now we’re living in the age of the luxury car clubhouse, where the car you drive isn’t just a statement about who you are, but a gateway to an immersive lifestyle.
Car clubs are nothing new, of course. The difference here is that these are brand-owned and -operated efforts, physical spaces with in-house restaurants, bars, galleries and events. They are exclusive statement pieces for vehicles which do more than get you from point A to point B. These aren’t just automobiles; they’re extensions of the people who own them. (I’m reminded here of Fight Club: “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?”)
If you live somewhere like New York or Los Angeles, then you’ve seen a surge of these clubhouses in recent years. Cadillac, which shuttered its Cadillac House in 2019 after a short three-year stint in the city, must be pulling out its hair that now everyone is super into the idea. The last three years have seen a string of new openings, or in the case of Tesla, the launch of a private social media network, Engage. Because obviously.
When Genesis House debuted in NYC this November, the intention wasn’t just to create an event space with a tea pavilion and a food program curated by the team of a Michelin-starred restaurant, but to foster the sense that these elegant and indulgent Korean cultural touchstones were reflected in the brand. More than that, as a newer luxury line, the intention was surely to place itself on equal footing with the more established brands it believes it belongs with.
Do such efforts actually help drive sales? Probably not. But it’s an add-on to the ownership of the vehicle itself, it’s a brand-building exercise, and it signals an intent to keep up with the Joneses. In some cases, these clubs offer a way to maximize your enjoyment of your car, whether it’s racetrack experiences, training courses or cross-country road trips. In others, you can parlay the cachet of the car you just purchased into a splurge meal or exclusive event that’ll impress your plus-one.
From coast-to-coast, here’s a collection of car clubhouses that will shift your car ownership experience into a higher gear.
The Audi Design Loft in Malibu opened this August, with a see-and-be-seen grand opening celebrated in conjunction with Nobu Malibu. The Malibu locale is the third in a global network of Design Lofts from Audi, also including outposts in Beijing and Ingolstadt.
While there will surely be more snazzy events held in the future, as opposed to the others in this list, Audi’s space is a functional one for the brand, serving as a manifestation of the boundary-pushing designs and concept vehicles their team works on. Therefore it’s more company- than consumer-facing, but is nonetheless a showpiece hub for the brand.
BMW had a temporary two-story gallery and exhibit at The Grove in Los Angeles this year. Dubbed [SPACE] by BMW, it offered an opportunity for the public at large to see the brand’s latest vehicles and concepts, and to be immersed in its signature style. The space was designed by Spencer Guilburt, an L.A.-based artist who previously collaborated with BMW at Art Basel, and the full portfolio was represented, including its motorcycles, as well as the MINI line.
While that’s come and gone, the BMW Driving Experience remains. With a hub at the BMW Driving Academy in Maisach, Germany, as well as other tracks and locales, BMW offers a range of training and driving experiences. You can bring your BMW M-line to the track for a Drift Training session, for instance, a half-day offering including theory as well as practical exercises, or you can sign up for a full-day snow training course.
BMW also has a collection of different spaces across Munich which it uses for private events, including the BMW Museum, BMW Welt and BMW Group Classic.
Genesis House New York opened this November in the Meatpacking District. It’s a splashy 45,000-square-foot space designed by Suh Architects meant to evoke sophisticated style and a distinctly Korean influence. As mentioned, the idea is very much to elevate the brand — which is the luxury wing of Hyundai — alongside its more well established competitors in the space.
One of its core offerings is the Genesis House Restaurant, a concept curated by the Michelin-starred Onjium of Seoul and its chefs Cho Eun-hee and Park Sungbae, with cuisine using traditional practices dating back to the 1300s meshed with a modernized approach. There’s also a tea pavilion offering tea ceremonies in a traditionally designed space; an event space; a boutique; a lush terrace garden offering a view of the High Line and surrounding area; and a library curated in part by LVMH publisher Assouline, along with Arumjigi, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Korean culture.
Of course, there’s a vehicle showroom as well, and the entire space features intricate architectural design and style. Expect an ongoing calendar of events ranging from screenings and performances to art exhibitions and workshops.
The best way to get a sense for the Land Rover brand isn’t to enjoy a swanky dinner, but to get that vehicle off road and have some fun. That’s why the brand has three Land Rover Experience Centers spread across the country, including California, Vermont and North Carolina.
The centers offer a range of courses, experiences and training programs, such as half- or full-day adventures. The specifics of these outings depend on their surroundings, of course, so in California you can test your ride with log crossings, rock crawls and side tilts, whereas in Vermont, you can practice icy hill climbs. Land Rover also offers Owner’s Day events at their Experience Centers, semi-annual events encouraging owners to bring and drive their own vehicle and congregate with fellow Land Rover enthusiasts.
Even more immersive is their lineup of Adventure Travel programs, with offerings in locales such as Sweden, sub-Saharan Africa, Scotland and Moab. As an example, the Sweden offerings include a range of three and four-day trips, including beginner and advanced courses, a collection of different vehicles with which to conquer the landscape, and plenty of hands-on frozen lake ice driving time at what they call their Ice Academy Sweden. Take that, Bond.
Lamborghini unveiled its second permanent Lamborghini Lounge this May, with a location under the High Line in Chelsea. The New York flagship joins the Lamborghini Lounge in Tokyo’s Roppongi district, as well as pop-ups which have been held in places such as St. Moritz and Melbourne.
The VIP space includes a gallery-style lounge, two floors with a number of private rooms and a concierge ready to make your Lamborghini luxe life dreams come true. The space is meant to impart Lamborghini’s signature style and swag, as well as its Italian heritage, and features collaborations with a number of luxury brands and bespoke products.
One does not just walk into the Lamborghini Lounge. This is an appointment-only space reserved for customers, as well as those they deem as “friends and partners” close enough to merit an invitation. By all means, though, give it a try. Email them at email@example.com to see if you can finagle your way inside. Let us know how that goes.
Intersect by Lexus wants to wine and dine you from its location in the Meatpacking District (was the neighborhood rezoned for the exclusive purpose of luxury car clubhouses when we weren’t looking?). It’s a three-floor hub centered on their ideal of Omotenashi, or a commitment to hospitality.
There’s a global izakaya-themed lounge including food and cocktails from their in-house “culinary master,” as well as private event and exhibition spaces. Intersect also hosts ongoing Restaurant-in-Residences. This fall they welcomed Nina Compton, the James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Compère Lapin in New Orleans.
Intersect strives to represent Lexus’s ideals such as craft, innovation, creativity; if this is what they can do with a brand home, what can they do for you if you were behind the wheel of one of their newest models, you might find yourself wondering. Intersect by Lexus also has permanent locations in Tokyo and Dubai.
Mercedes hosts a number of pop-ups dubbed EQ Experience Centers. There were two this fall, including one in Santa Monica, and one in — and I promise I am not messing with you here — the Meatpacking District. These events showcase their new models and offer an up-close look at all of the latest bells and whistles.
But you didn’t think Mercedes stopped there, did you? Of course not. You can start with the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, with more than 1,500 exhibits. Then consider the AMG Driving Academy, an ongoing event series offering access to renowned racetracks around the country with the power of the Mercedes-AMG lineup at your disposal.
Then there are the official member clubs, for which you’ll need to prove ownership in order to join up for events and private gatherings, along with additional fringe benefits. Meanwhile, AMG owners are really, really into their rides, so if that’s you, you can also sign up for the AMG Private Lounge, a private online forum, and the AMG Social Club, which hosts meet-ups and assorted other events.
Porsche has three permanent Experience Centers in the United States, with outposts in Los Angeles, Alabama and Atlanta. The Porsche Experience Centers are a mix of lifestyle lounging and fine dining with on-the-track adrenaline, which is really the main attraction.
For instance, in Atlanta, there’s a 1.6-mile circuit with six different track features, and a number of driving experiences, training courses and challenges available. There’s also a Simulator Lab and a Heritage Gallery. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, there’s a 53-acre track area and personalized vehicle delivery and walk-through services for new owners. And the official U.S. Driving school of Porsche is at the Birmingham location.
Porsche also offers semi-annual, all-inclusive vacation packages. These Porsche Travel Experiences are essentially indulgent group road trips. In 2022, you can plan to go leaf peeping with your Porsche peeps on six-night New England itineraries, while past trips have conquered iconic Americana such as Route 66, all while cruising in an assortment of the latest Porsche lineup.
The next time you’re in the market for a new vehicle, choose wisely. You’re not just choosing a ride. You’re connecting to an intrinsic sense of self. You’re making a statement to the world. And you’re choosing a prospective clubhouse, too.
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