Why Earthling

Carolyn Coquillette
11 min readFeb 27, 2023

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Luscious Garage becomes Earthling Automotive on April 3rd, 2023. This article describes the journey as well as the reasons for the change (two years in the making), for those who may be curious or perhaps even concerned, having come to depend on us over the last 15+ years.

It’s hard to remember what the world was like when Luscious first started. Apple released the first iPhone on Friday, June 29th, 2007; we invoiced our first customer the following Thursday. Tesla had yet to produce a Roadster (that wouldn’t happen until 2008). And the Toyota Prius reigned as the poster child of automotive progress, prized on waitlists at many dealerships.

The shop came to life when life was very different, but we anticipated several trends that have since changed the world: environmental action, vehicle electrification, cloud-based technology, and consumer enablement and connectivity.

Within the first year of business:

  • The shop was recognized as Small Green Business of the Year by the SF Bay Guardian.
  • We pushed the early transition from gas-dependent vehicles to electrics, converting Prius to plug-ins (alongside regular repairs and service) and nurturing plug-in advocacy with the Golden Gate Electric Vehicle Association, Plug In America, and CalCARS.
  • We developed our own shop management system, running online and paper-free, giving customers transparency and engagement with their repairs throughout their car’s visit.

San Francisco transcends our story: locating here was deliberate then (and continues now), as an epicenter of hybrid/EV ownership, software development, and environmental policy. Our vision has been in lockstep with the city’s culture of new ideas always: to rethink auto repair from the ground up, then inspire the change here and elsewhere.

From Luscious to Earthling

The name Luscious Garage immediately signals something different, even to this day. Originally it was my online handle, an alter ego working as an auto mechanic in the years prior to starting my own business. When the time came I considered many alternatives; the best contender “Synergy Auto” referenced Hybrid Synergy Drive, Toyota’s brand for hybrid drivetrain technology.

Luscious Garage was ultimately chosen for its cleverness, association with the environment, and (debatably) subtle nod to female ownership. Memorable (if not easily spelled), it garnered a lot of attention, and we were covered in countless media outlets (CNN, CBS, The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, Wired, et al.). Our promotional appeal came with a penalty, however: a sense of boutiqueness, of sexualizing the business, and that we remained outliers, exceptions to the rule.

Ironically, San Francisco Magazine best quoted my acknowledgement of this problem. “I don’t see [Luscious Garage] representing a counterpoint to the industry. We’re part of the industry and we’re excited to help lead it to the next chapter. It’s not like, ‘Oh wow, isn’t it amazing that this woman did this?’ It’s more like, ‘Let’s go.’”

While my understanding of the automotive industry and my identity within the industry expanded over the years, the customer culture of Luscious Garage also shifted. Hybrids went mainstream; green-themed brands became passé; disruption moved on. Even the stuff our brand did well no longer served our purpose. Inspired by the dramatic advancement of vehicle onboard technology, electrification as well as driver assist and the pursuit of self-driving, I was compelled to rethink and improve, those traits being the true core of our value proposition.

The name Earthling Automotive originated after eight months of exploration and deliberation. (For the record: a survey for new names began with a circle of friends in July, 2021; Lifted Logic ultimately spawned the brainchild, presenting Earthling as a keyword on February 16th, 2022; URLs were purchased later that month; the trademark filed the following April.)

The word Earthling captures the human nature of our business, taking care of customers and employees, as well as service professionals at large: the knowledge work that is fixing today’s cars. It connotes the progress of the human race, technology and pursuit of a better future, counterbalanced by our fragility, individual dignity, and the preciousness of our home planet.

These themes I expect to last for the next 15+ years.

Technology and progress

When it started, Luscious embarked on two courageous fronts simultaneously: (A) fixing a totally new line of vehicle technology (hybrids) and (B) revamping how to run an auto repair business. On the business front, no paradigm was spared: all priorities, processes, and technology were reconsidered.

Our operating system exemplified it best. Existing shop software was from the 1980s, so we decided to build our own. (This audacity is not totally unusual: more than a few shop owners tried their hats before, and others have come since.) I wanted our shop software to be cloud-based and paper-free, focused on customer-facing features so they could understand and approve work, view photos, videos, and service information, and ultimately pay for their service, completely online.

“Hyspace”, so named to be “Myspace for your Hybrid” (predating Facebook), came to life in late 2007 running on a new programming language called Ruby On Rails, stored on Amazon Web Services. Shrug emojis didn’t exist yet, but the freelance developers hedged in other ways, warning me that these systems may not be supported long term. Thankfully RoR and AWS proved solid, and Hyspace proved foundational to LG’s success. Customers raved about their experience in online reviews, and the shop grew profitably, ultimately landing us at a much larger facility on 9th St, a San Francisco thoroughfare.

Hyspace became a prototype for a totally separate vertical SaaS (Software as a Service) business called Shop-Ware (founded in 2013 and still led by me today). Luscious Garage, on the other hand, started following Shop-Ware’s lead, incubating the new startup for testing as well as physical office space, and stopped innovating on its own.

Today, Shop-Ware serves thousands of other repair shops in the United States and beyond, with backing from Robert Bosch GmbH and Insight Partners. It provides the tech stack so that shops (including Earthling) can grow and compete into the future. While Shop-Ware continues to pursue cloud-based technology with a mission “to enable service providers to fix cars faster”, Luscious can reboot its contribution, to serve ever more high-tech, low-maintenance vehicles (read: EVs) in a high-cost environment (read: San Francisco), with many logistical problems still to solve in the physical realm.

The Physical Realm

Luscious began in a classic SOMA warehouse on Clementina Alley, a “shoebox” I like to say, but a lease we were lucky to sign at the frothy economic peak of 2007. After surviving the downturn, we upgraded to three times the space on 9th Street, a four-lane thoroughfare off the 101 exit. When we couldn’t process all the cars during regular business hours, we expanded to multiple shifts, ultimately running 120 hours a week. The daytime shift ran 8am to 6pm, Monday through Friday, and we served the city’s taxi cabs overnight every night, 6pm-4am.

Come 2015, at the same time I was busy soft-launching Shop-Ware, Luscious suspended overnight hours after four years serving the taxi community and their subsequent disruption by Uber and Lyft. Other tech giants established and expanded their offices a few blocks away: Twitter, AirBNB, Pinterest, Zynga, Slack, and Atlassian. Construction of Salesforce Tower completed in 2018, a monument to SaaS eating the world.

Our rent tripled while square footage remained the same. The business shouldered the cost in facility but also payroll, supporting our employees’ rents to live within commuting distance. Time didn’t stop either: hybrids continued to age, with more unforeseen repairs, breakdowns, and overnight stays. Despite being exorbitantly expensive by auto repair standards, the facility lacked dedicated vehicle storage or secured parking outside its walls, and this became the intractable limitation to our efficiency and growth.

This dynamic is not unique to Luscious: everything in SF has gotten more expensive, challenging all small businesses to make it work and survive. We recognize that our customers drive the most practical cars for a reason: to spend less money. Luscious Garage walked a fine line to keep services affordable and fair to all stakeholders. The increase in aging cars combined with the pressure to keep repairs as cost-efficient as possible landed us at a figurative crossroads: adapt the business or die.

Tesla is the New Prius

The question always was where to go next. People would ask “are you getting into electrics?” and after getting burned on the Nissan Leaf, I would retort, “so we can buy the factory scan tool for every vehicle manufacturer that sells all of 10 units?!”

Others suggested we should relax (even a little?) and attract Subarus or other non-hybrids popular in San Francisco. That wouldn’t solve the parking problem, but it would help us charge more money, taking us down the path to conventional auto repair.

Owning a business is a pain in the ass, auto repair or otherwise. I was already a busy CEO of a Series A startup. Was my “Personal Why” a shop owner identity in an obsolete business model?

After much emotional and business reflection, I distilled the initial success of Luscious Garage (and longevity since) to one key factor: a single, new, and dominant platform. In 2007 it was the Prius. As we came out of the pandemic, the EV signal became finally and increasingly clear: Tesla.

Tesla makes more than one model, but the lineup is narrow enough for us to reuse our playbook from Luscious early days: get as prepared as possible, create a dedicated space to welcome early adopters in a geographic area with market concentration, fill the gap in affordable, convenient service unmet by the dealer, and convert our experience into expertise. Build on brand awareness with enthusiasts, in web forums and at events, and delight customers with service excellence that inspires them to write glowing online reviews.

I’ve presented this playbook to industry peers over the years, more recently with news of Earthling and our shift towards EVs. While I clearly believe in first mover advantage, I also want to share our path and progress so that others may follow, to diminish our dependence on gas-powered automobility as quickly as possible.

Kismet

Decided on Earthling, focused on Tesla, we still needed to solve our facility problem. Note that this problem started with an aging Prius population with cost-sensitive owners. Tesla takes this problem to another level, requiring even less service (read: tighter unit economics) with owners told by the manufacturer that their car will require no maintenance at all.

I started looking for a new building in San Francisco in June of 2021. Still empty handed by February 2022, I surrendered to the East Bay, where we could afford a place four times the size. The disruption to our existing community (customers and employees) would be overcome by the increased capacity, and we could potentially buy. The search continued throughout the year, coming close on a couple of places, one even down the street from the Tesla factory in Fremont.

Throughout this time I was talking to Laerte Zatta, a colleague from Lyft who led the Shop-Ware implementation at their new Driver Centers, SF and nationwide. He had since left (COVID dealing a major blow to the company), moving to Alabama to revolutionize commercial construction at BLOX. He came from Tesla before Lyft, and we talked about his running the business as COO.

In September 2022 something crazy happened: Lyft wanted to sublease their facility in San Francisco, at the Bayshore location Laerte originally designed and implemented, and they would give us a look before anyone else. The facility was turnkey: all equipment, permits, and leasehold ready for a highly efficient workflow. (At its peak, Lyft serviced 50 cars a day at the Bayshore site, for an average of 12 minutes each.)

The building wasn’t as big as we originally planned, with a higher price-per-square-foot compared to the East Bay, but it had parking, much better logistics than 9th Street, and it required minimal investment to get started. (It also preserved our existing community.) We negotiated the deal and took possession in December 2022. After some cleanup and improvements worthy of minimum-viable-product, we opened for business to Luscious customers as Earthling Automotive on February 1st, 2023.

Continuing to learn and grow

Yes, we will continue to serve our existing customers, and meet new ones, not just with EVs but the growing offering of hybrids. In the meantime Tesla has opened its access to parts, service information, diagnostic tools and equipment, and we are thrilled by the new EV entrants, expanding our expertise first-hand on electric Fords, Chevys, Hyundais, Fiats, Volkswagens (among others), as well as nascent manufacturers such as Rivian and Lucid.

Opportunity spans multiple fronts:

  • The growing market of EVs on the road
  • How the Aftermarket can address the needs of rapidly changing and complex onboard technology, with increased convenience and price compared to the dealer (as always)
  • How we prepare the existing workforce while also encouraging young people to join the trade and develop rewarding careers

Integrated within the Earthling model is our requirement for continuous learning on the technical front. The current pace of innovation quickens, as seen in some of the newer EVs. At the same time, we approach a totally new manufacturer (Tesla) as well as multiple aging EV platforms failing for the first time. Finally, our own hard-won insights from the shop floor must be documented and inform our technicians.

To that end, we recruited Jack Rosebro as Head of Training, to create and deliver an EV-specific technical learning program to our own staff and others across the industry. Jack has been training technicians throughout North America since before Luscious Garage opened, has developed hybrid and electric vehicle curriculum for community colleges, and most recently taught for Toyota Motor North America before coming over to Earthling Automotive. Jack’s approach to learning involves a focus on teaching the student to become an independent learner; a self-sustaining technician who grows with the technology.

Luscious Garage will close as a repair shop at 9th Street on April 3rd, but our facility will continue operations as Earthling’s training facility. Tesla and Prius platforms underpin the initial EV and hybrid training respectively, with hands-on classes open for registration next month. Please check in with our training page for more information and updates.

Our Mission

Earthling Automotive’s mission is to lead the Aftermarket’s service delivery into the future of automotive transportation. We accomplish this by demonstrating the viability of EV service, modeling the greatest technical and operational expertise, and offering our knowledge to all service professionals.

Earthling Automotive is proudly co-founded by myself, Laerte Zatta, Jack Rosebro, and Karry Walker. I am grateful to share the founding journey this time around and for the opportunity to lead this exceptional team, each with unique skills and background. We share the excitement as well as the fear, plunging into the void, with much work to be done and uncertainty ahead. The comfort is knowing how far we’ve come and the hard knocks that got us here, cherishing human collaboration and doing something meaningful.

My deepest thanks to all the supporters of Luscious Garage over the last (nearly) 16 years, and all the kind words at the news of our next phase. I look forward to supporting you, your automotive transportation, and our mutual goals to coexist with nature and with each other.

The dire urgency of figuring that out, our timing now, the launch of Earthling Automotive alongside ChatGPT and the pursuit of vehicle autonomy, is aptly captured by a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, “It’s as if every gleaming and Promethean promise of machines able to perform tasks at speeds and with skills of which we can only dream carries with it a countervailing nightmare of human displacement and obsolescence.” We feel this tension in the rapid changes around us, even speaking simply of driving and fixing our cars.

At our launch, we are optimists: about the human capacity to be curious, learn, solve ever complex problems, and help fellow Earthlings appreciate the countless ways we are precious.

Earthlingauto.com

Technology driven. People centered.

@earthlingauto — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn

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