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Car Dealers Not Plugged into the EV Revolution

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How do we get information when we want to buy a new car? Often, it’s online with car review websites and automaker’s sites & advertising, and hopefully UCS’s clean vehicle information. But when it comes time to see and test drive cars, you can’t replace going to the new car lot. Unfortunately, recent reports say that many new car dealerships lack the knowledge or desire to effectively sell electric vehicles (EVs).

Credit: flickr/thomashawk

Credit: flickr/thomashawk

Many new car dealers don’t have enough experience, knowledge of EVs

A recent survey by Consumer Reports and a workshop convened by University of California-Davis both showed that many dealers and new car sales staff lack knowledge of electric cars or, even worse, try to steer buyers away from EVs. In the Consumer Reports survey, the researchers sent “secret shoppers” to dealerships and found in over 40% of the time dealers pushed them to buy a conventional gasoline vehicle instead of an EV.

In the UC Davis presentation, 83% of plug-in vehicle buyers said that they were dissatisfied with the EV buying experience. In some cases, a prospective EV buyer is explaining the technology to the salesperson or even convincing the dealer to order and sell them the electric vehicle.

Education and incentives can help dealers, salespeople understand EV benefits

What’s the solution? At a meeting of the Plug-in Electric Vehicle Collaborative, I got to hear what automakers are doing to address this issue. One effort shared by a number of EV manufacturers is to educate the sales staff. This can be though “product geniuses” at dealerships that are experts in EV technology, or providing sales staff with total cost of ownership info to show potential customers that EVs can be cheaper than gasoline-only cars. Auto companies can also incentivize employee purchase of EVs so that they get hands-on knowledge of electric vehicles. Another tactic that is working for automakers is to reward salespeople and dealers that are leaders in selling EVs. Governments are also starting to recognize EV sales leaders.

Doing your homework before buying a new car is of course vital to getting a vehicle that is affordable (both to buy and use), environmentally-responsible, and meets your needs. With the new models of electric vehicles now available, you might be a good candidate for an EV. There are a number of online tools specific to electric vehicles to help inform your decision, including a new tool from UC Davis that can simulate your daily commute in electric and conventional cars.

Hopefully, most new car dealerships will come up to speed soon on electric cars. Until then, make sure that you do your research ahead of time to make the most of your visit to the car dealership.

Posted in: Global Warming, Vehicles

About the author: David Reichmuth is a senior engineer in the Clean Vehicles Program, focusing on oil savings and vehicle electrification. See Dave's full bio.

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  • tina

    YEs.Every test drive is a teaching moment. That’s is why I built my own 11 years ago! And why people will continue to build their own. Car dealers will join utilities as the meek continue to inherit the earth..or what is left of it.

    The key is to listen to the needs of the customer to help them understand which vehicle is best. THis is NOT a skill I have witnessed among car sales people.

  • Pat

    As a successful car salesperson I can assure you it is not because we are stupid that we devote limited time and space to EVs. First, they are a new product and not time proven in actual service. Salespeople on the showroom floor know better than to sell by touting wishful benefits or by pitching overly optimistic benefits. We have to service what we sell and when we mislead customers we get all the blarney tossed right back into our service center. We survive on customer satisfaction and cannot risk misrepresenting anything that will alienate paying customers. Secondly, the new EVs occupy a very, very narrow market niche. With a practical range of about 40 miles between recharges (yeah, I can promise the prospective buyer he/she can drive 80, 100, 150 miles or more but within days of the purchase I will have an irate buyer dressing me down on the sales floor) these vehicles are practical for only a very few purchasers. Also, shoppers come in here with unrealistic expectations. For example, they don’t seem to understand how much it costs to recharge an EV and they don’t accept the several hours required to make a full recharge. They seem to think the EV costs practically nothing to operate (nothing could be further from the truth). I don’t recommend pickup trucks to soccer moms, I don’t try to talk the middle age crisis sports car shopper into a minivan, I don’t insist low income families purchase high end automobiles and, likewise, I don’t try to foist an EV off on anyone who needs reliable, economical long-range transportation — and that’s most of our market. Hate me for being a pragmatic capitalist, if you must, but you really cannot expect me to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear out here where the rubber meets the road. I have a family to support, just like everyone else. I respect my customers and enjoy satisfying their long term needs.

    • http://www.ucsusa.org/about/staff/staff/Dave-Reichmuth.html David Reichmuth

      Thanks for the perspective from a car salesperson. I don’t expect sales staff to try to convince everyone into an electric vehicle, especially if it wouldn’t fit their needs. However, the Consumer Reports survey showed that some dealerships were actively pushing potential customers that were a good fit for an electric vehicle away from EVs. This happened most often where the dealer didn’t have EV inventory or had a lack of knowledge of the vehicle technology.
      Also, I have to disagree with your statements that EVs are costly to operate. If I use the UCDavis EV calculator with my local energy prices, a 40 mile weekday commute in a 29 mpg compact car will cost $1435 a year for gasoline while a battery electric car like the Nissan Leaf would add less than $320 a year to the electricity bill. That’s a significant savings! Daily driving distance needs to be considered for battery electric vehicles (though public and workplace charging is expanding), but plug-in hybrids don’t have this concern.

    • http://blog.ucsusa.org/author/dave-reichmuth Dave Reichmuth

      Thanks for the perspective from a car salesperson. I don’t expect sales staff to try to convince everyone into an electric vehicle, especially if it wouldn’t fit their needs.

      However, the Consumer Reports survey showed that some dealerships were actively pushing potential customers that were a good fit for an electric vehicle away from EVs. This happened most often where
      the dealer didn’t have EV inventory or had a lack of knowledge of the vehicle technology.

      Also, I have to disagree with your statements that EVs are costly to operate. If I use the UCDavis EV calculator (http://gis.its.ucdavis.edu/evexplorer/) with my local energy prices, a 40 mile weekday commute in a 29 mpg compact car will cost $1435 a year for gasoline while a battery electric car like the Nissan Leaf would add less than $320 a year to the electricity bill.

      That’s a significant savings! Daily driving distance needs to be considered for battery electric vehicles (though public and workplace charging is expanding), but plug-in hybrids don’t have this concern.

  • http://jpwhitehome.wordpress.com JP White

    One huge problem is that most dealer staff have never driven an EV. You have to have first hand experience to be have even the most basic knowledge. I asked for a test drive of a Mitsubishi i-Miev, the salesman initially drove the vehicle and was surprised at how well it drove, “This isn’t bad at all” was his exclamation. I ran over the features of the car as he drove to the spot where I took the wheel.

    All dealers need to do is send each salesman and staff home with an EV for a week or two. They will soon know what they are talking about.

    • http://blog.ucsusa.org/author/dave-reichmuth Dave Reichmuth

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Sales staff education is important, including hands-on experience with the cars. Some automakers are reporting that successful EV dealerships are using salespeople trained as EV specialists, which should help address the situation you encountered.

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