Ron Rossi has always looked for efficiencies in his workplace.

Back in the 1970s, fresh out of engineering school, he helped institute energy-efficiency measures at two supermarkets owned by his family, such as reclaiming the heat thrown off by the air conditioning and refrigeration system, and installing timers and motion sensors to cut power use.

Now owner of a Honda dealership in southern New Jersey, Rossi is still at it.

By installing a canopy of 900 solar panels that covers and illuminates the dealership’s new-car inventory, along with other energy-saving measures, Rossi Honda in Vine-land, N.J., claims to be first U.S. car dealer to be “electric grid neutral.” That is, over the course of a year, Rossi Honda produces more electricity on site than it consumes from the utility grid.

The long-term benefits of converting his store to solar power are not only ecological but also financial, Rossi says.

“I felt it was an important statement to make,” the 63-year-old Rossi said. “Selling cars, the bottom line has been getting skinnier because of the Internet and regulations. We have to get our efficiencies in line.”

“It’s pretty simple math, and I’m a math guy,” Rossi adds.

The upfront investment wasn’t cheap — nearly $1.3 million. But Rossi figures that the solar panels will have paid for themselves in five to seven years. After that, for the 25-year life cycle of the array, Rossi figures he’ll make $2 million in net profit. This for a dealership that sells about 1,000 new Hondas and 400 used cars annually.

Mark Rechtin is a writer for Automotive News.

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