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Meet the nation’s first green auto showroom on Oakland’s Auto Row

on January 25, 2011

As the market for eco-friendly vehicles grows, car dealers across the country are seeking new ways to capture the attention of green-minded drivers. Honda of Oakland has made a bid to attract those drivers as they shop for their next car on Oakland’s Auto Row by opening the nation’s first showroom dedicated exclusively to the hybrid and alternative-fuel cars of a major car company.

honda of oakland, green cars, hybrid cars

Honda of Oakland’s new “Green Center” on Auto Row showcases the company’s lower-polluting cars.

Honda unveiled its “Green Center” showroom in September, and it has enjoyed modest but steady traffic over the last several months—not quite enough to merit its own staff, but Honda of Oakland salesperson Jenny Adams said that customers, usually by appointment, are shown the selection in the Green Center almost every day. Honda of Oakland fleet manager Glenn Scheffer said that a dedicated green showroom is a good way to demonstrate that Honda values the environment. Adams added that Oakland is an ideal location for Honda’s first green showroom.

“In terms of demographics, the Bay Area just makes a lot of sense,” she said.  “I see more hybrids on the roads, and I don’t see as many Lexuses and Mercedes.”

The Green Center is home to the hybrid Accord, Civic, and CR-V sport utility vehicle, as well as the Insight, which was the first hybrid available in the United States when it came out in 1999. Honda also sells a version of the Civic that is fueled by natural gas, which Adams said is the best seller in the building, though she declined to give specific sales figures.

The showroom houses some dozen of these hybrid and natural gas-fueled cars, which are surrounded by loud hints to the center’s environmental aspirations, including potted plants, skylight windows, and green trim along the walls. The exposed southern brick wall is reminiscent of a modern loft apartment, and the arched wooden roof evokes the feeling of a cabin in the woods. While this structure fits the showroom’s environmental theme nicely, Scheffer said that the 10,850-square-foot space already had its basic structure—everything but the plants, posters, and some green paint—while it was still being used as a private storage garage for Honda’s backlog of stock.

Although the Green Center displays the company’s newest lower-polluting vehicles, the building itself has no unusually eco-friendly features. In contrast, a Honda showroom that opened outside of London in 2008 was designed to recycle rainwater and use ground source heating pumps and solar power to heat water in order to conserve energy. There are currently no such ambitious plans slated for dealerships in Oakland.

Honda is not the only dealer on Auto Row to offer environmentally friendly vehicles. Cadillac, for example, offers a hybrid version of its Escalade SUV; Toyota’s Prius, a direct competitor to hybrid sedans like the Honda Insight, is the best-selling hybrid car in the world. But the opening of Honda’s Green Center, even if it is only a rearrangement of its existing property and stock, has the feeling of a small expansion at a time when five other dealers—Ford and Saturn among them—have closed their doors in Oakland.

“This location is profitable,” Scheffer said. “We’ve got a good product, and a good location.  We’re not going to go into huddle mode.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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