Luscious Garage gains national attention for being all-green, all-female, and all-hybrid
San Francisco, Calif.-"Green and Clean" is their motto and hybrids is all they work on, but that's just the beginning of the story at Luscious Garage in San Francisco. By focusing on providing a different type of experience for their customers, Luscious has been getting extensive attention from both local and national media and has gained a reputation in just one year for being unlike any other repair shop on the planet.
Luscious Garage Owner Carolyn Coquillette, 30, said she decided to become a technician after graduating with a BS in physics from the University of Michigan in 2000. She said she began taking auto tech classes and hybrid training at a community college and eventually made her way to the Bay Area three years later.
After working for several shops, Coquillette said she decided to open her own hybrids-only shop in 2007. It's been a big investment in time and money, but so far it's been well worth it, she said.
Coquillette is a Master Hybrid Technician who has studied all aspects of hybrid technology with an emphasis on plug-in hybrid applications, she said.
"The plug-in conversions have become a big part of our business," she said. "We're doing at least one per week. The plug-ins allows our customers to plug their cars into an electrical wall outlet and run on both gas and electricity, so they're getting the best of both worlds."
Hybrids are just beginning to get to the point where they require more than maintenance, Coquillette said. "We're starting to see these cars age, and the whole industry is just so young," she said. "We're learning more and more every day, and it's an exciting opportunity to be working on these vehicles."
It's been an ongoing and unending learning curve, she said. "I am comfortable putting myself out there and saying, 'I am a hybrid specialist,'" she said. "No one can really claim to be a hybrid expert because these cars are barely aging. The main thing is that we have a core understanding of these vehicles, and what we don't know, we can figure out."
Luscious operates out of a 2,300-square-foot facility with three bays and employs two hybrid technicians and one administrator, Coquillette said. The shop carries approximately $10,000 worth of parts in-house and has $50,000 in tools and equipment, she said.
Luscious is green in every way, she said, and has won several awards for being environmentally responsible. "We use natural light whenever we can; we have no ventilation system because hybrids don't smell, and we don't use things like air compressors unless we absolutely have to," she said. "We use a paperless operating system and have plants throughout the shop because they filter the air."
The media has flocked to Luscious, from BBS to CNET, CBS News, and ABC, she said. "We've gotten a ton of publicity, which is great, because it's essentially free advertising," she said. "I was recently interviewed for Time magazine and we've been featured in a lot of news pieces. People are intrigued about these cars, and hybrids are a hot topic right now."
Coquillette said she has observed several types of pattern failures and common problems with the Toyota Prius.
"With the first-generation Prius, we're having to replace the high-voltage batteries and transmissions, usually right around 150,000 miles," she said. "With the second-generation Prius, we're seeing some issues with cars that have been in collisions and develop electrical demons after being rebuilt."
All in all, hybrids are well-designed vehicles that will last a long time if maintained properly, Coquillette said. "These are extremely resilient cars," she said. "I have one customer who put 250,000 miles on a 2005 Prius without ever changing the brakes, air filter, or spark plugs and without losing any mpg. The engine light never even came on."
One of the most popular services that Luscious offers is a "vital service" package that includes a comprehensive inspection, oil change, tire rotation, and other basic maintenance, and costs $110, she said.
Luscious uses a custom-designed fully scalable Web site for every customer service function--from writing estimates, to e-mailing maintenance reminders to customers and generating work orders, Coquillette said. Customers can make appointments, pay their bills, and check the status of their repairs online, she said.
"We designed our own software and spent more than $75,000 on site development," she said. "It's paid off and proven to be worth every penny. It's like our fourth employee. People who own these cars are very tech savvy, and it's reassuring to them when they see that we're Web-based and in the same world as they are."
The atmosphere at Luscious Garage is a little different than what you might encounter at most repair shops, Coquillette said.
"We don't have any counters here," she said. "We don't have any barriers to separate our clients from our techs. It's a wide open space here, and customers are welcome to wander around and ask questions. There are no smoke and mirrors."