Auto Dealer Retrofitting for Zero-Net-Energy


Auto dealer Winslow Felix was friends with 1920's cartoonist Pat Sullivan, who created Felix the Cat. The 90-year-old dealership is getting a green overhaul.

The oldest running auto dealership in Los Angeles recently announced plans to become California's first dealer to reach a Zero Net Energy status. For its 90th anniversary, Felix Chevrolet is getting its own tune-up with a servicing by Alpine Green Solutions, which scrutinized the facility with an energy audit. The iconic vintage sign may be a historic-cultural monument that can't be touched but just like its cartoon cat namesake: "whenever he gets in a fix/ he reaches into his bag of tricks," there's a batch of simple and complex ways to improve the energy efficiency of the site and make it more sustainable.
Alpine Green Solutions with Felix's GM, COO and the Chevy Volt. Photos by RCruger

I took a tour with new General Manager Robert Mansfield and Alpine's Robert Orfino, who revealed the planned upgrades - everything from switching out old fluorescent lighting and simply painting walls and roofs white to bounce the existing light, to turning off equipment when not in-use and perhaps the biggest trick of all -- changing behavior. Students from the adjacent University of Southern California will get involved to monitor that process.

Felix Chevrolet spends more than $200,000 annually on energy-related expenses, and Alpine figures the solutions can decrease consumption by 75 percent. The property's conversion fits with General Motors' guidelines for energy-efficiency, said Mansfield, pointing out the new electric Chevy Volt plugged into a wall socket ready for a test drive near the downtown LA location.

"We should walk the walk," said Mansfield about reducing their environmental impact. "There's a lot of work to do, and we're showing people what needs to change--warts and all. Another upside is that we will save tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, annually." Besides improving the design of the space, recycling and other eco-friendly practices will be put in place.


Phase one: replacement and placement of light fixtures for decrease wasted energy.

The goal is to be the greenest car dealership in the country and first Net-Zero-Energy dealer in California. There's some competition with new facilities, such as Toyota dealership near Dallas, but this is a worthy gauntlet to throw down to show how to change existing structures. One of Alpine's specialties in the area of sustainable makeovers is with auto dealerships.

Since 40 percent of the energy consumed at Felix Chevrolet is from lighting, the retrofitting designs focused on replacing fixtures with LEDs, low wattage bulbs and the latest generation flourescents. Also strategic placement and automatic shut-offs in buildings not in-use, and resetting air compressors will minimize waste, despite the fossil-fueled vehicles on the lot.


Automatic shut-offs for equipment like lift compressors are no-brainer improvements.

With 31 percent of the energy consumption from heating and air-conditioning, the redo will make the envelopes of the buildings tighter and properly insulating to save energy. Orfino noted that the ventilation system was built when smoking indoors was permitted. The plan takes advantage of the lots' southern exposure, using renewables such as solar-panel covered parking as part of the next phase, and replacing energy-sucking outdoor flood lights with LEDs. But first, efforts will increase awareness among staff, from the showroom and offices to the service stations.

As the old jingle for "Felix the Cat" goes: "Your heart will go pit-a-pat/Watching Felix the wonderful cat." With this dealer reaching Net-Zero, may others take the same road.

More on greening car dealerships:
Ford Announces Major Green Dealership Program
If a Car Dealership Can Be Green...Here's the First
Wind Powered Honda Dealership

Tags: Electric Cars | Energy Efficiency | Environmental Footprint