More dealers choose LEDs for outdoor lighting

James B. Treece
Automotive News -- March 18, 2013 - 12:01 am ET

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.

Auto Dealers Choose LED Lot LightingThe 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.

Easy installation

LEDs slash electricity use. Equally important, they're easy to install and almost maintenance free. Lallier says he was especially pleased that his lights, installed at the end of last year, could be attached to his existing light poles, so the dealership "didn't have to tear up asphalt" to put them in.

Reed Lallier Chevrolet, which sold about 1,200 new and 1,000 used vehicles last year at its eight-acre site, installed the new lights at the end of last year. For the 100 light poles, the total installation cost -- including fixtures, controls, labor and taxes -- came to about $120,000. Utility-bill savings so far are about $2,000 a month. Lallier expects to save another $3,000 a year on maintenance.

For Bernie Moreno, president of Collection Auto Group, in suburban Cleveland, installing LEDs dovetailed with his expansion plans.

Collection Auto Group sells 21 brands, including Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, Aston Martin and Fisker, at 14 dealerships. The company currently has 11 construction projects under way, including nine new stores. The group began installing LEDs at its dealerships about 18 months ago, and has converted half of them so far. It will convert all of its stores and make LEDs part of all new store construction plans.

One project involves tearing down a hotel in Fort Mitchell, Ky., to build a Mercedes store. The site sits next to a busy stretch of I-75 that connects Cincinnati and its airport in northern Kentucky, but it also abuts a residential neighborhood.
Dealership construction plans always bring up zoning issues. "No. 1 with the city and neighbors is lighting, lighting and lighting," Moreno says. "They think of these gigantic flame-throwing lights that are going to keep them up all night."
Spotlight on LEDs

LED lights initially cost more than standard metal-halide high-intensity discharge lights but offer some advantages for a dealership.

  • Longer life: Almost zero maintenance for 10 years
  • Lower energy costs: LEDs can cut energy usage by 85%
  • Natural-looking light: LEDs showcase car colors better
  • Security concerns: Immediate on-off can be used with motion sensors
  • Focused light pattern: Uniform lighting eliminates dim areas between lamp poles

Support from neighbors

Auto Delears Like LED Light Quality

The Fort Mitchell store promised to be especially problematic, since city regulations banned car dealerships. But Collection Auto Group got the site rezoned in just three months. Moreno says "every single neighbor went to City Hall supporting us," and half the reason for their support was the LED lighting proposal. LEDs were just "less intrusive," he says.

Moreno switched to LEDs expecting to use just 15 percent of the wattage for lighting that conventional lights would use. "That's a gigantic number that you can't ignore," he says.

But the savings he most appreciates is in maintenance. Most of his luxury-brand dealerships have high ceilings. So when one bulb goes out, whether outdoor or indoor, that means getting the lift and "it's $10 to $15 to replace a $5 bulb." And, he says, "Not a day would go by without an outdoor lamp going out." But the first store to get LEDs was a former Saab store, now converted into a Mercedes Certified used-vehicle center. Since it got LEDs a year ago, not a bulb has failed.

The switch is too recent for Moreno to know if he's getting the $77,000 in annual savings he had projected. But, he says, "It's simple math. If you used to use 20,000 watts and now you use 3,000, you're going to save a lot."

Plus, he says, it's the right thing to do environmentally.

A dealer might need 90,000 watts of electricity for conventional lights to light up a vehicle lot with 50 light poles and 80 fixtures. "That's just not responsible," Moreno says. "It's like driving a car that gets 2 mpg."

You can reach James B. Treece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .