Andrew Chiarelli's original idea, from back when he started working at Motorcars Honda in 1995, was some kind of a roof to keep the lot from constantly getting buried by the heavy lake-effect snow that assails the Cleveland area each winter.
The culmination of that concept is a 335,000-watt solar canopy that has helped the store slash energy costs by nearly 80 percent and earn certification as the world's first carbon-neutral car dealership. It has also increased business from eco-conscious consumers and attracted more applications from younger job candidates.
"We weren't aiming for that at first, but once we started down the road, it kind of got ahold of us," said Trevor Gile, managing partner of Motorcars Honda in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and son of owner Chuck Gile. "It's really changed our whole business."
The two-year, $8 million project, now in the final stages, also included an extensive renovation of the 1903 building and installation of an assembly line for routine maintenance that will cut customer wait times and let the dealership service 100 to 150 more vehicles a day.
The 32,000-square-foot roof, made with steel from recycled cars and topped by 1,240 solar panels, now covers the store's used-vehicle inventory and several demo models of each Honda nameplate.