Auto dealerships may be falling down on the job when it comes to selling electric vehicles. A new policy brief by UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and Economy analyzed consumer surveys and conducted interviews with automakers and dealers. The report reveals:
large across the board deficits on every facet of the [electric vehicle] purchase experience, notably salesperson knowledge and expertise about the vehicle.
Tesla was the notable exception. The company has made headlines fighting state-level policies that restrict automakers from direct sales to customers, and this survey indicates why: Tesla can do a much better job selling their cars than a disinterested franchise dealer. As the report notes,
Tesla’s elimination of steps that add little or no value at the retail facility (e.g. price negotiations, paperwork, and waiting) shifts efforts toward more PEV-specific support that likely bolsters customer satisfaction scores.
I’m not surprised by the negative findings. I found a similar dynamic when I researched electric vehicle policies in Hawaii. Many sales reps there were unfamiliar with electric vehicles and not motivated to sell them. They couldn’t answer basic questions about how the vehicles perform. In one case, a dealer owner on the Big Island was apparently openly hostile to the idea of electric vehicles and refused to sell them at all, despite the strong economics there (he’s since reversed course and is now selling them). By contrast, when I leased my electric vehicle from a California dealer that was a top-seller for EVs, the salespeople were very knowledgeable and helpful.
If automakers are serious about selling electric vehicles, they need to work the carrots and sticks to get their dealers familiar with the cars and motivated to sell them. At a minimum, at least one sales rep on-site needs to drive one for an extended period of time. Only through consistent use can they 1) understand the challenges and options available and 2) develop a feel for the positives these cars bring to the driving experience.