The Rajun Cajun drove into Carson City one day with a Smart Car full of plans - building plans for his new $3.6 million car dealership in South Carson City.
Bob Chauvin is running on a full tank of gas (his Smart Car gets about 56 miles to the gallon) to build in a new market south of his three other dealerships in Reno.
Known for his zany commercials (featuring a man dressed as a crawdad), catchy slogan (Where nobody walks!) and his plantation-raised Louisiana accent (he's originally from New Orleans), Chauvin said his new dealership will fit in the capital city market. And city officials want to help the Rajun Cajun grow auto row and produce more sales tax revenue.
"I think there is enough business here for everybody," Chauvin said. "I think Carson City has been very hospitable with their idea of the Carson City auto mall."
His proposed Suzuki dealership at 3449 S. Carson St., near Koontz Lane, will be Carson City's newest car dealership on auto row.
Chauvin's dealership will present several firsts for Carson City, including a building run on "green technology," and as a retail spot for the Smart Car, which is an energy-efficient vehicle that retails for about $27,000.
A green building
The lot is small for a new car dealership - a little over 1 1/2 acres - so Chauvin had to go vertical. As the plans stand now, Suzuki of Carson City is a 32,000-square-foot, five-story building with rooftop parking and show rooms for 120 vehicles. The architect is Joseph Snider, of White Cloud Construction in Reno.
"This building's grand opening will be on Oct. 1, 2007," Chauvin said. "We plan on breaking ground at early or mid-spring."
Chauvin, 59, submitted building plans to the city on Thursday for a temporary sales office at the site, which he hopes to have open by Nov. 15.
"The sooner we can get it done, the faster the commerce starts," Chauvin said. "We're going to have a lot of fun with it because it'll be the first totally green building in Carson City."
A green building can be a complicated project, said Art Hannafin, managing partner and architect at Hannafin Design Associates of Carson City. A green building is made of less toxic materials, he said. It has a design that uses natural light. The building would use an alternative source of power, such as the solar voltaic panels that Chauvin proposes for his building.
"His energy bills are going to be less," Hannafin said. "I would say at this time there is some debate about how much these things really cost. I would guess that building may cost 8-10 percent more than the use of standard materials, but that figure is dropping as more builders become acquainted with and aware of the products."
The dealership could be hauling in the green - and not just from car buyers.
Chauvin could receive energy rebates from Sierra Pacific Power Co. for using solar panels. He is expected to file an application for the SolarGenerations program, said Karl Walquist, spokesman for Sierra Pacific Power Co.
"People who participate in the program, if they generate more (energy) than they use, they get a credit on future power bills," he said.
Customers who install solar panels can earn rebates of $3 per watt of electricity produced, which is meant to offset the cost of installing the panels. But there are a finite number of SolarGenerations applications available each year. In the past customers filled those slots within only a few weeks.
One of the biggest expenses for car dealers is lighting. The Reno car dealer said he could run the whole dealership "at no electrical cost."
Chauvin can also anticipate a hefty tax incentive from the city.
The Suzuki dealership could receive up to $500,000 over 10 years in sales tax incentive money, said Joe McCarthy, city economic development and redevelopment manager.
"We're very much going to be involved in providing support to Bob (Chauvin) as we move forward," he said. "The redevelopment authority treats all the new car dealers equally, and (it will) create a commitment agreement with Bob that ensures his long-term business presence in Carson City."
The only car dealer so far to partner with the city on a redevelopment incentive deal was Dick Campagni.
Carson City sealed a deal with Campagni, owner of four Carson City dealerships, in 2005 that provided a $3.6 million incentive for him to buy six acres on South Carson Street for a new Toyota dealership.
The projected sales for Suzuki are much less than a large Toyota store, the redevelopment manager said, so Chauvin probably wouldn't be awarded as much as Campagni.
For example, if Suzuki earns about $8 million is annual taxable sales, it would produce about $160,000 in sales tax. The incentive deal gives the car dealer 20 percent, or $32,000, a year for 10 years. If sales increase by 5 percent each year that comes to about $500,000 total, McCarthy said.
Carson City gets 80 percent of the new sales tax dollars, which could be $2.5 million over 10 years, he said.
What about electric cars in Carson City?
If you want to test drive an electric car, you'll have to go to Reno.
Suzuki of Carson City will not have electric vehicles, which Chauvin sells at Zap! of Reno.
Chauvin said he also has no plans to open a dealership just for Smart Cars, which are fuel-efficient, gas-powered cars. He had bought the franchise rights to ZAP (Zero Air Pollution) for Reno, Sparks and Carson City in 2004, but he didn't get any cars. He worked out a deal with the importer and started receiving Smart Cars for the Reno dealership this year. The electric cards arrived last week.
The Smart Car, made by Mercedes Benz, is known for its urban presence because of the compact body and fuel efficiency. Chauvin said he has sold 40 Smart Cars from the Reno store and one electric truck.
"I would like to see more of those little cars (the Smart Car) and hybrid cars being used in Carson City," said Walt Sullivan, city director of planning and community development. "We can fit more of the little cars downtown than the big cars."
Suzuki is holding 35 year 2007 vehicles for Carson City, which Chauvin said will be delivered once the infrastructure, site work and temporary sales office is up.
Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.
What's all the rage?
What: The new Suzuki of Carson City dealership at auto row on South Carson Street
Who: Chauvin Properties Inc. bought the 1.46-acre parcel for $725,000 in July 2005. Chauvin, and business partner Joseph Scalia, obtained the Suzuki franchise license for Carson City in March. The Rajun Cajun also operates three dealerships in Reno: Payless Car Sales, Rajun Cajun Used Cars and Zap! of Reno.
WHEN: A temporary sales office could open by Nov. 15. The full dealership office could open by October 2007.
By the numbers
Cost of the dealership: $3.6 million
Size: Five levels and 33,000 square feet
Cars: About 200
Employees: 35, once the service center opens
Cost of the Suzukis: $12,000-$29,000
Cost of the Smart Car: About $27,000
Sources: Bob Chauvin; assessor records