Highland Township, Mi — Auto makers are striving to purvey a positive image of producing ‘green’ vehicles.

Now dealerships are getting into the “green” game, incorporating the likes of geothermal heating and cooling systems, car washes with recycled water and rainwater collection systems for irrigating landscaping at environmentally-friendly facilities.

An example of all that is the LaFontaine Automotive Group's new $15 million Buick-Pontiac-GMC-Cadillac here.

It is soon to become one of the first in the nation to achieve Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Ryan LaFontaine, general manager of the family-owned store, says the 63,000-sq.-ft (5852.7 sq.-m) facility on 24 acres (9.7 ha) incorporates principles of sustainable design and construction.

LaFontaine, which sold more than 4,000 new and used vehicles last year at a previous outgrown facility, estimates the group spent an additional $2 million in the new dealership's construction to help with the LEED certification.

The $600,000 geothermal heating and cooling system helps achieve annual energy savings of up to 54%. LaFontaine says the system will pay for itself in five years.

Other green features include 85 skylights that fill the facility with natural light; photocells and computer-controlled lighting that ensure the lights are turned off in unused areas and turns off artificial lighting when there is enough daylight to illuminate the building; a white roof and green belts throughout the exterior that reduce the ‘heat island’ effect.

LaFontaine's on-site car wash recycles 85% of the water conventional car washes would waste. Its body shop uses water- base coat paint that dries 20% faster than normal paints.

The 33-bay service department uses vegetable oil instead of caustic and difficult-to-dispose-of lubricants in hydraulic lifts.

“We actually looked at this with General Motors setting the example with their LEEDS certified plants and the vehicles that they are producing,” says LaFontaine.

The dealership applied for 45 points in the LEED certification. It takes 39 points to be “gold.”

“We've been in here for 45 days, and last month was a phenomenal month. It shows that if you build a facility like this, they will come.”

LaFontaine says some of the green touches are visible to the consumer. Others aren't.

“The steel itself is 70% recycled. The asphalt, the concrete, and even the base coat, it's all recycled,” he says.

“The furniture is LEED certified; many of the doors are made of agrifiber (compressed corn cobs and wheat), instead of any wood materials.”

Other features include a retention pond that gathers runoff water from the roof and parking lots; a windmill that generates energy to pump water for irrigation; eco-friendly furnishings in the interior; preferred parking spaces for LaFontaine employees who car pool and bicycle storage areas and changing rooms for those who provide their own horsepower to get to work each day.

“This is a magnificent dealership. The LaFontaine team has been one of our highest-volume dealers for some time,” says Susan Docherty, General Motors Corp's North American vice president-Buick-Pontiac-GMC channel.

“In fact, in June they were the No.1 BPG dealer in the nation, the same month they moved into this fabulous new ‘green’ facility.”

Docherty says the idea of being green is a new paradigm in the way GM approaches design and manufacturing, along with selling and maintaining cars and trucks.

“We are heavily investing in making cars and trucks that impact the environment as little as possible,” she says. “With the opening of this dealership and those that are sure to follow, our customers can enjoy a 360-degree ‘green’ car-buying and car-owning experience.”