For a company to survive in this market for over 40 years, it must know a thing or two about hopping on the next trend. Atlasta Solar Center (No. 284 on the 2020 Top Solar Contractors list) started installing solar thermal systems in 1979 before transitioning to off-grid and eventually grid-tied solar PV systems. The Colorado company was also dabbling in energy storage and electric vehicle chargers when a bigger trend emerged in the area — pre-owned EV and hybrid vehicle sales.
“We saw a lot of correlation between the electric vehicle market and the solar market. [A large percentage] of people who purchase solar are also looking at EVs this year, and the inverse is also true — [many] people buying an EV this year are likely to look at solar. We saw an opportunity there,” said Matt Fowler, Atlasta marketing manager.
In 2018, Atlasta participated in a local energy “Shark Tank” competition and pitched the pre-owned EV dealership idea. Since Atlasta is a licensed electrical contractor in the state and has experience installing EV chargers, the proposal won support, and sister company SunRabbit Clean Transport was born.
SunRabbit presently takes orders from interested customers and then buys the vehicles at auction. But very soon, it will have pre-owned vehicles on a physical lot for customers to browse. By law, all car salespeople must be licensed, so three Atlasta employees, including co-owner Lou Villaire, are now licensed. Although there is double-dipping in employee pools, Atlasta and SunRabbit are two separate entities and considered complementary of each other.
“Increasingly, we had our [solar] customers ask us, ‘I think I’m going to get an electric vehicle and I’d like to know how many solar panels I need to cover the fuel for that,'” Villaire said. “It’s really an exciting time for EVs. We’ve seen people want to take a look and dip their feet into the world of EVs.”
The sister companies want to provide a better car-buying experience to those looking into cleaner options.
“It’s not just coming in and getting the dealership treatment where you ask me about a car and I’ve got to go ask my manager five or six times,” Fowler said. “It’s a better car-buying experience because we’re able to find the exact vehicle the customer is looking for because we have access to the auto auctions that happen all across the company on a weekly basis. And we have that support side, with installing the [electric] supply infrastructure.”
A solar company linking with an EV dealership is a great business decision, Villaire said, especially since they both promote a greener future.
“CO2 emissions are the highest they’ve ever been. The transportation sector has surpassed the electric generation sector in terms of the greatest source of CO2 emissions in the United States,” he said. “The quickest way for us as a nation to reduce CO2 emissions is the electrification of vehicles.”
This story was featured exclusively in our 2020 Top Solar Contractors issue. See the issue and full list of top U.S. solar installers here.