Car Dealers Not Plugged into the EV Revolution

August 6, 2014
David Reichmuth
Senior Engineer, Clean Transportation Program

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.

About the author

More from David

David Reichmuth's work focuses on analyzing new vehicle technologies and advocating for policies that support the increased electrification of transportation. Dr. Reichmuth has testified at hearings before the US House of Representatives, the California State Legislature, and the California Air Resources Board, and he is an expert on California’s Zero Emission Vehicles regulation.