Case Study: LaFontaine Automotive Group – Green Showcase
"Wow!" That's the typical reaction from first time customers who enter LaFontaine Automotive Group's new $15 million dealership in Highland, MI. After all, have you ever seen a car showroom that offers the convenience of a café, gift boutique, hair and nail salon, and video-monitored kids play zone?
What's most impressive, however, is the commitment it took to become one of the first dealerships in the nation to "go green" and achieve Gold LEED certification, an independent third party verification that a building meets the highest sustainability standards.
The centerpiece of LaFontaine's green initiative is a 64-well geothermal system that heats and cools the building by capturing energy stored in the earth, 350 feet below the building, with annual energy savings of up to 54% over conventional HVAC alternatives. And throughout the facility, you'll find evidence of ecologically-wise features. Solid doors are made from compressed corn cobs and wheat. The car wash recycles 85% of the water that conventional car washes would waste. Some 85 skylights provide energy-saving, natural daylight, and computer-controlled lighting ensures artificial lighting is turned off when enough daylight fills the facility.
Other environmentally-friendly elements include service bay lifts that use vegetable oil instead of caustic and difficult-to-dispose-of lubricants.
Once the decision was made to incorporate a collision repair center into the dealership's service capabilities, the search began for the latest technologies and systems that would best support their green initiative.
"After visiting the NACE Expo, we weighed the pros and cons of going with a waterborne paint system versus solvent-based," said Todd McCallum, fixed operations director for LaFontaine. "In the end, we decided to get a jump start on the technology we feel will inevitably be mandated for the Great Lakes region in the not too distant future.
After deciding to convert to a waterborne system, settling on PPG as the refinish partner was not difficult according to McCallum. "They made it easy for us," he said. "The overall commitment from PPG, as well as their distributor Painters Supply & Equipment Company, and the excellence of the product sealed the deal."
Aside from all the environmental benefits, McCallum said the production aspects were also critical in weighing the move to waterborne. "We wouldn't compromise on quality and the Envirobase® High Performance system proved outstanding for ease of application and color matching. PPG also gave our paint technicians complete training and support." McCallum became particularly impressed with the Envirobase HP waterborne basecoat when he and 11 technicians attended a hands-on demonstration at PPG's Training Center in Wixom, MI.
"They handed me a spray gun and asked me to try my hand at painting a panel," he recalled. "Given that the only painting I ever did was with a brush, I was surprised and impressed with how easy it was to apply. I thought to myself, 'if I can paint a good match, our skilled painters will sure be able to.'"
Paint technician Bennie Miller echoed the praise. "I've been using PPG products for over 30 years, and this time they really have outdone themselves with this Envirobase HP waterborne paint. It offers high productivity, and application is so easy, anyone can spray it."
To accommodate the waterborne system, LaFontaine installed a state-of-the-art waterborne spray booth with the AdvanceCure™ Accelerated Airflow System from GFS. The curing system uses high velocity air blower towers to speed flash off and drying times.
As one tours the facility, a peek into General Manager Ryan LaFontaine's office, located front and center near the showroom, will reveal a sign hanging proudly above his desk: "Going green isn't only the best way to go. It's the only way to go." It's a statement that aptly reflects the spirit and commitment that abounds throughout the dealership.