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Ford Expands Efficiency Efforts to its Dealers' Lots

<p>At the National Automobile Dealers Association convention this weekend, Ford unveiled a pilot project aimed at helping its 3,500 dealers nationwide save energy and reduce emissions and other environmental impacts.</p>

When you think of an auto dealership, green is not usually the first description that might come to mind. A vast sea of brightly lit concrete, surrounding an even brighter showroom floor, most dealerships seem to be the essence of inefficiency.

But a new program announced by Ford Motor Company this weekend aims to change that, one dealership at a time.

At the National Automobile Dealers Association convention this weekend in Orlando, Ford unveiled a pilot project currently underway aimed at greening its 3,500 dealerships nationwide.

The project, tentatively named the Go Green Initiative, has begun at three dealerships -- one in Florida, one in New York, and one in Nevada, and involves a comprehensive assessment and evaluation of the firms impacts, primarily from an energy use standpoint, but looking at impacts across the site.
Lighting will be a key element of the retrofits, aimed at addressing both the quantity and the quality of the on-site lights.

"In the past [dealers' thinking] was 'the more light the better,' but today we want to be resource efficient, and we want to provide a comfortable atmosphere," Bill Allemon, Ford's Land Energy Efficiency Manager told me in an interview. The new thinking will be to redesign the lighting at dealerships to bring lighting levels down in the showroom and spotlight it more on the products. "Think of an art gallery," Allemon said.

Ford has developed the program in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), which will be helping Ford evaluate up-and-coming technologies that can improve energy efficiency. RMI, which contributes regular blog posts to, has long focused on energy efficiency in facilities.

Details about the dealership project are somewhat scarce, since it is still in the works. Allemon explained that it is fully voluntary for all of Ford's dealers, which largely operate on the franchise model and are independently owned and operated from Ford Motor Company.

But greening dealerships is in everyone's best interests: As the primary touchpoint that individuals have with Ford vehicles, a green dealership helps present the environmental initiatives that Ford Motor Company has undertaken.

And Ford is applying some of the best practices it has learned in its multi-billion dollar renovation of its Rouge River facility, including lighting redesigns, daylighting, and even landscape innovations, like that facility's famed vegetative roof, and the use of landscaping to manage stormwater runoff.

Allemon was hesitant to talk about potential savings from these retrofits, but he said that, using off-the-shelf technologies, a dealership could expect to save 20 percent on its energy bill, and that, while Ford has "a very aggressive target" for energy savings, they're keeping it under wraps until the pilot project is completed later this year.

The renovations will be timed to coincide with already-planned improvements, so that dealers can incorporate new, greener technologies as part of the existing project. And Ford will be presenting a menu of "good, better, and best" options for efficiency retrofits, letting dealers decide just how green they want to go.

Although Allemon described a dealer aiming for a "good" renovation as essentially continuing business as usual, he also discussed the potential for having "net-zero" energy using sites, so the range of improvements is broad.

"Dealers are laser-focused on how to become more energy efficient," he said, adding that dealers "can set the dial" for what they want to do. But the sales pitch behind the renovations project is cost savings, and while they're saving money, they're also reducing their carbon footprint.

Asked about the timing of the announcement, when the nation is still reeling from a long economic slide, Allemon said that the economic situation makes the time ideal.

The time is perfect, actually," he said. "A lot of the stores have reduced their operations, they've cut their head count, and they're always looking for ways to reduce their operating costs, as well as to differentiate themselves from competitors and sister dealerships across town."

We'll have more about the project in the coming months; Ford expects to have the three pilot renovations completed later this year, at which time Ford can begin gathering and reporting the data on the environmental impacts these three dealerships are having.

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