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Luscious Garage, almost as the name suggests, is not your ordinary neighbourhood car garage. Nestled in downtown San Francisco, home to a very high concentration of hybrid cars, this is definitely a garage with a difference.

Catering to the needs of these environment-friendly cars that run both on electric motor as well as petrol, the garage mirrors the same principles as the cars it services and the people who drive them – environmental responsibility, using cutting edge technology and the personal touch.

There’s no typical mechanic-shop look or smell to this place filled with lots of potted plants, steaming sunlight, art on the walls and music playing. Follow the mechanic to the shop floor to watch the repair or relax in the lounge area. It’s your choice.

The brains behind this enterprise is Carolyn Coquillette, the young owner of the garage, who, along with being responsible for all aspects of keeping this relatively small 2300 square-foot work area clean and environment friendly, also actually repairs the cars. Since its opening in September 2007, it has sought to carve a niche for itself in this ever-growing hybrid market. “What’s interesting about our place is that we want the customer to feel at home and be involved in the process when they bring in a car for a service. We pay equal attention to you, your car and the environment,” says Coquillette.

This garage in San Francisco, USA, caters to hybrid cars and is squeaky clean.

One of the mantras that come all through the interview is that every action at Luscious Garage is considered for its impact on the environment. In Coquillette’s words “we do not view ourselves as green but simply less brown”, acknowledging the fact that driving, as a necessary evil, is not going to disappear anytime soon-but that shouldn’t stop us from being environmentally responsible.

Green and Clean

Green is everywhere. The dozens of plants around the garage actually filter the air taking away the familiar and not-so-inviting mechanic shop smell and improving the indoor air quality. The garage itself is spotless clean. “We want to present a calm and collected impression to the customer. The main idea is not to show them how great we are but for them to see how little damaging we are,” says Coquillette. “We are very conscientious about all our actions. Even our messes we handle with green methods. Sure, it takes a little extra time and energy, but there are huge benefits to reap,” she adds.

The skylights on the ceiling let the garage use natural light as much as possible and solar panels are the source of electricity for the appliances and fixtures which are energy-efficient appliances.

There is no doubt that it is a challenge to keep the chemicals in check, especially in the auto service industry. Great care is taken to recycle everything from fluids, metals, packaging and parts working with EcoHaul and Evergreen Environmental who aim towards a zero-waste goal.

In fact, Coquillette makes her own windshield solution from vinegar and water (water-based parts cleaners are required in San Francisco) and refined motor oil is used instead of virgin crude. Aerosols are avoided and the spic-and-span shop floor is made out of non-porous and sealed non-toxic concrete, dramatically reducing VOCs (volatile organic compounds), particulate matter and maintenance. Rags which collect any residue are laundered offside by a dedicated rag service company making sure that the chemicals are disposed properly. Even the floor mats and fender covers are made from recycled fabrics making them durable and reusable.

For the office she buys supplies from a company that specializes in sustainable office products. So along with recycled paper (very little as virtually every transaction is paper less), you will find scissors with recycled plastic handles, recycled post-its, recycled pencils and more. To keep water, energy and chemical usage in check, all regular laundering is done on site and plans are underway to set up a grey water system for cleaning and watering plants. Even the furniture and many appliances are second hand.

Also to spread the word of sustainability to the community, the garage is hosting classes and a hybrid car club on their premises.

High Tech

Committed to keeping up with latest technology both on- and off-board the vehicles, Luscious Garage uses a web-based management software. This paperless system lets you do everything from booking appointments, view your work order live, drop in an email to the technician, pay your bill and so much more 24/7 online in what they term as ‘Hyspace’. In fact, the technicians and the customers look at the same information and that transparency gives customers a lot of confidence and an increased comfort level. “The basis of our business was to create a repair facility that departed from auto repair the same way the hybrid does from the regular car and we do that by being green, high tech, and with a cutting edge,” says Coquillette, proud of the achievements and great response they have been getting.

Luscious Garage now offers a comprehensive list of services, doing the routine jobs with the same enthusiasm and care as the larger maintenance services. Her customers range from anyone paying over $500 for a full service job to a $30 quick ‘help me get rid of that annoying beep in my car’ fix-it. While they do services and maintain the hybrids, they are getting great interests for plug-in conversions and adding more powerful batteries to currently available gasoline/electric hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius. These plug-in conversion costs about $7,500.

For Coquillette, it has been a journey that has led her to fulfill her dream. “I will always encourage anyone who wants to start a business to keep the environment in mind and it will make a huge difference.” Sure, and why not. Where else can you find yourself fixing cars and spending an afternoon at an art gallery as well!

Renu Ramakrishnan

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