Despite the increasing popularity of hybrid engines and plug-in vehicles, one doesn’t typically link the words “environmental” and “dealership.” Likewise, many business owners don’t link the idea of environmentalism with cost-efficiency; instead they consider going green an expense, seldom looking at long-term savings. Capitol Auto Group is changing those ideas.

The initial plan to move the group’s Salem, Oregon, stores to a new site came about four to five years ago, according to Dealer Scott Casebeer. The 70,000-square-foot building housing the Chevrolet/Cadillac store was the structure in use when Casebeer took over in 1977, and the Toyota store, which was only 20,000 square feet, had been on the property since 1974. As the ratio of domestics to imports the dealerships sold per month shifted considerably over the course of 30 years, and the facilities no longer suited the group’s needs. “We had really outgrown the Toyota facility, we were in too large of a GM facility, and we were leasing,” he explained.

The time had come to consider either remodeling the leased facilities or moving, and in 2008, he purchased a 22-acre piece of property just off the Salem Parkway with the intention of building new stores and relocating. Shortly thereafter, the recession hit and the project was put on hold, but about a year ago, despite the struggling economy, the decision was made to move forward with the project. “The interest rates were so low and the [construction] bids we were getting … were so unbelievable, we decided, ‘Let’s just go ahead and build and move out right now,’” Casebeer said.

The new Capitol Toyota store opened on the property in August of 2011. The property, which had at one time been used for gravel excavation, already was home to a small, manmade lake when Capitol bought it. The project’s architect, Gene Mildren, said they were able to make use of the lake for storm water detention. Runoff from the roof and paved areas runs through a landscaped area that serves as a bio-filtration swale. “Before the water can go down into the storm sewer system it’s cleaned in a natural process as opposed to a mechanical-type filtration system,” he explained.

Capitol Toyota
The new, more eco-friendly Capitol Toyota store (shown here) in Salem, Oregon, opened in August 2011. Next door, the auto group's new Chevrolet/Cadillac store is still under construction and is expected to be open for business by May of this year.

The water and landscaping add to the visual appeal of the property as well. “It is absolutely beautiful,” said Casebeer. “Around the area we don’t just have blacktop; we’ve got green space.” He’s considering installing a couple of fountains in the lake to draw more attention to the property from the parkway and plans to utilize the area as recreational space for his customers. “Around the lake we’re putting in a walking path so people can get some exercise when they’re getting their car serviced or walk their dog,” he said, adding that he would like to put in a floating golf green for customers to use. “We’ve fortunately got a very unique site … so we’re taking full advantage of that … It’s going to be fun.”

Not surprisingly, the Toyota store has plug-in stations out front for charging customers’ vehicles as well as the store’s own inventory. Oregon is one of 15 states where Toyota plans to begin offering the 2012 Prius Plug-In hybrid in March 2012. The group’s Chevrolet/Cadillac and Subaru stores, which are still under construction and slated to open in May 2012, will also have plug-in stations for electric vehicles.

As for the building housing Capitol Toyota, a number of measures were taken by Mildren to decrease the amount of energy required to heat and cool the building, starting with the exterior glass and canopy.

It was a manufacturer requirement that the front of the two-story Toyota store be clear glass. While aesthetically pleasing, it’s a design element that can often lead to heat loss in the winter and overheating in the summer. “You can’t get a lot of reflectivity with clear glass in order to cool down the building,” said Mildren, explaining that he chose a high-performance clear glass that is able to diffuse much of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Additionally, he extended the building’s canopy beyond the manufacturer-required minimum of 15 feet to provide additional shading over the glass.

He said he also chose what is known as a thermally-broken unit for framing the glass. Most commercial buildings in the U.S. use aluminum frames for their windows, and aluminum is a very good conductor of heat and cold. A thermally broken unit is constructed so that the aluminum is not continuous from the inside out; a different material is used in the middle of the frame that holds the frame together but stops heat loss inside the building.

Also helpful in minimizing energy cost is the fact that the building’s roof is painted white. Mildren said most buildings have gray roofs, but white roofs reflect sunlight, keeping buildings much cooler in the summer.

Efficiently heating large spaces with high ceilings can be particularly challenging. Capitol Toyota’s service area is heated using an infrared heating system. “It’s called a CORAYVAC,” said Mildren. For a place like a service bay, which of course has a high ceiling to accommodate the use of vehicle lifts, heating the upper level of air near the roof is a waste of energy. “What’s unusual about this system is that it heats the objects in the space as opposed to heating the volume of air.” Infrared heat warms people and objects the way the sun heats the earth. “It doesn’t heat the actual air. It’s a very, very efficient type of system as far as heating these types of spaces.”

To help keep the heat in, the service department sports high-speed doors at its entrance and exit. “One of the real issues with an auto dealership is that conventional doors go up fairly slowly … It might take 10 seconds, 12 seconds in order for the door to go up when someone pulls in,” said Mildren. “These doors will go up ten feet in one second, so there’s less heat lost within the building.”

In the showroom, which is an open two-story area, it’s a waste of energy to heat the upper level of air, so they heat the showroom from the floor. “We want to provide the heat where the people are,” said Mildren. They installed a radiant heat system, which circulates hot water through the entire slab foundation. The water is heated by a gas system, which he said was the most efficient form of heating in their area. They also have low-flow plumbing fixtures installed throughout the building to cut down on the amount of water used for things like flushing toilets.

Another measure taken to minimize the dealership’s energy use is a programmable lighting system that uses motion sensors. “How many times do you walk past a room and there’s nobody in there, but the lights are on?” Mildren asked. If no movement occurs in a room for 30 minutes, the system turns off the lights. This is very useful for places like restrooms, storage rooms, parts areas and conference rooms that are not always occupied and in use, he said. He added that the dealership is also using T5 high-output fluorescent lighting, which he described as being “the latest technology in lighting” and carrying a low energy cost. “We’ve also introduced skylights into our service bays … [which] bring in quite a bit of light,” he noted.

Scott Casebeer"The clean-up that we've done - replaced the fence all along the parkway, put in landscaping, [added] beautiful lights - has now [made it] kind of the entry into Salem on the Salem Parkway. It is a showplace; it is absolutely beautiful."

- Scott Casebeer, Dealer, Capitol Toyota

In addition to the measures taken during construction to make the dealership more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly, there are also a number of practices that have been integrated into the store’s day-to-day operations that help with conservation and waste reduction.

Carrie Casebeer, the group’s director of marketing, listed a number of recycling measures implemented in the service department and body shop: “Oil is recycled and used for our technicians’ heaters. We separate and recycle all plastics, such as antifreeze and oil containers. We recycle all oil filters and Freon. [We] recycle cardboard and all … metals and body shop materials, as well as body shop chemicals.” She added, “We also do carbon filtration on all aerosol cans,” which significantly reduces harmful hydrocarbon emissions.

She said the day-to-day recycling measures are “not things that cost us any more. Mostly it’s just getting used to doing it.” She also said there has been no trouble with employee buy-in on the recycling policies, which she partly attributed to the general public mindset toward recycling. “We’ve had the ‘bottle bill’ forever in Oregon,” she said, referring to the state’s 1971 Beverage Container Act, which created the country’s first deposit/redemption system to encourage recycling and reduce litter. “It’s become something everybody wants to do. I can’t think of one person around here who doesn’t want to do the right thing as far as the environment … I think it’s just being able to provide the opportunity so they can,” she said.

“Some environmentally-friendly practices can be not-so-cost-efficient, and so you kind of have to weigh the positive effects versus … the bottom line,” she said. The dealership opted out of doing some of the higher-cost green upgrades to the new facility, like adding solar panels to the roof and other requirements to become LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certified. Some environmental building measures are so expensive to undertake that they often require government grants and don’t make much sense from the financial standpoint of the business owner. “We’re [doing] what a small business can do and still be cost-efficient.”

Vol. 9, Issue 2