The light bulb blinked on in the mind of Mike Lallier, owner of Reed Lallier Chevrolet in Fayetteville, N.C., as a result of serving on his local utility board.
The board was exploring replacing streetlights with light-emitting diode, or LED, lights. The more he researched LEDs for the board, the better they looked for his dealership, too. Compared with conventional lighting, LEDs would slash energy costs and be almost maintenance free for close to 10 years.
He calculated the more-expensive LEDs at his store would pay for themselves in about six years. Add in that the quality of light from the LEDs "makes our product show better," he says, and "I just felt it was a no-brainer."
Lallier is one of a small but growing group of dealers switching to LED lights, particularly for outdoor lighting, because of their low operating costs and natural-looking light. LEDs can be dimmed at night and come on at full brightness in an instant. That makes them ideal for security plans that hook LEDs to a motion detector on a dealership lot.
Vendors say LEDs also are suitable for indoor use, particularly in the service department, where they reduce heat and thus reduce the need for extra fans or air conditioning. But LEDs have not been included in automakers' facilities standards, and that has slowed their use indoors.
As LEDs gain traction at dealerships -- much as they are becoming more common as luxury-brand taillamps -- LED vendors are stepping up their pitches to dealers. GE Lighting was one of 24 lighting vendors displaying their wares at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Orlando last month, up from 10 last year and just six in 2007, the last NADA convention before the recession.
Ryan Rodau, retail marketing manager for GE Lighting in East Cleveland, Ohio, told Automotive News that the confluence of factors favoring LEDs would make this a "crossroads year" for sales to dealers.
Several dealers say that what sold them on LEDs was the quality of the light.
Lallier says his new lighting, from Cree Inc. of Durham, N.C., "makes our cars really pop." And because LEDs can be focused exactly on the location where the light is needed -- without the dim spots between lamp poles common to standard metal-halide, high-intensity lights -- that allows his store to "showcase our inventory in the best possible light."
Once dealers are reassured that the light from LEDs will make their cars look good, they look at the numbers -- and find a compelling case.