A car dealership owner may not be the first person that comes to mind when you think of an environmentalist, but what if that car guy lives almost completely off the electric grid, shows up to support all the big local environmental organizations — and bikes 80 miles a week?
That would be the L.A. Car Guy, a.k.a. Mike Sullivan (above, in yellow), who’s well-known in the car-centric Los Angeles for his 10 car dealerships — and now well-known in the green community for his eco-philanthropy supporting Environment Media Awards, Global Green, Heal the Bay, and other green nonprofits.
Last night, Mike Sullivan threw a party at his Fisker Santa Monica dealership to show off the Fisker Karma — the world’s first eco-luxury plug-in hybrid sportscar due out next year. There, Mike also revealed plans to expand the electric car infrastructure in L.A. by installing six electric plug-in and hybrid vehicle chargers at his dealerships — available for any plug-in or electric car driver to use.
While environmentalists and car fanatics milled about posing for photos with the Fisker Karma, I caught up with Mike to talk about living green, driving off the grid, and even getting out of the car altogether.
You’re installing electric chargers for anyone — not just your customers — to use. What was behind that decision?
We thought it was unfair to only sell a product. We thought you had to be involved in the infrastructure, and changing people’s driving habits. And if you only sell something, you don’t really effect change.
So I bought seven chargers this week and we’re installing them next week. Two at Toyota Santa Monica, two at Toyota Hollywood, one at Lexus Santa Monica, one at Fisker Santa Monica, and one at my house. So now, we’re going to open those up not only to our clients, but anybody who needs a charge. So we’ll have the ability for someone who buys a Nissan to stop by and come by and have a cup of coffee and visit for an hour, and get at least enough charge to go drive their 20, 30, 40 miles, whatever their car takes to get back home.
I think it’s just one of those little things, candidly, that we have to do to truly allow people to have the ability to change. You can’t make it difficult for people. Even if they like it, they can afford the car, you still have to make it easy for them to do it, to live it.
I know you’ll be getting a Fisker next year, but what are you driving now?
For two years, I drove a Scion XB, and then I switched for a year and a half to a Lexus HS. So I’m driving a small, Lexus hybrid. I love it. And then I have fun cars too — because I own 10 car dealerships — so I have something fun I can always grab. But in ’08 – ’09, during the economy pullback, I thought it was really important for my employees and everybody to see Mike pull back too.
So the Fisker will be your first plug-in hybrid?
I’ll probably have a Prius plug-in before that. I’m in line to get a prototype Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid and I anticipate driving that all during the fall, and then this will be my first car I will actually own.
I have a charging station at my house, and my house is solar paneled. So I live off the grid, 90 percent, and in January, when I get my Fisker, I’ll drive off the grid. So I’m kind of excited about that. Driving off the grid is going to be good.
I think somebody who only tries to use sustainability as a marketing tool would get felt out immediately and it would be really obvious. This is what we like, and what we live.
I know you’re a car guy, but I have to ask — Do you ever bike or take public transportation?
I don’t take public transportation; I bike a lot. I also motorcycle a lot, but I know what you meant by bike. I bike about 80 miles a week, some for rec. I only live about 4 miles from my house to my office, so it’s a nice ride. And my kids are all in business with me, so I can always get a ride home if I work late or something like that. I live in Manhattan Beach and I can bike back and forth so that’s easy.
Some people would say it’s an oxymoron — A person who sells cars who’s involved with all these environmental organizations. What made you an environmentalist?
I’m as local a guy as you can be. I grew up in the waters here, and I think that was my first orientation as a kid. Our first love was the ocean — It was so obvious that we had to do things to take care of it…. I knew that when we swam in front of storm drains and got ear infections, the connection was pretty obvious. So I think that surfing was probably the initial connection that really closed that gap and made it really obvious that I had to do my part to clean up.
And you’re right, automotive — My first goal was to just take a dirty industry and make it better. And eight to ten years ago, I was really pleased if we did that. And now, we’re better than that. We’re taking a business and actually making it pretty good. From my air conditioning systems to my light systems to my xeriscape landscape, my eco-furniture, the products we sell — We’re actually kind of changing, and again, living, with that sustainable mentality.
Want to see the Fisker Karma in person? The $87,900 plug-in hybrid sportscar — which will go 0-60 in six seconds and travel 50 miles on its battery power alone or 300 miles total with gas power — will make its next appearance at the L.A. Auto Show in November. About 160 people in Los Angeles have already pre-purchased the car, which will start being delivered in 2011.
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