EV Buyers Rate Dealerships Much Lower Than Conventional Buyers

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Electric-car buyers are far more likely to rate their experiences at car dealerships negatively than buyers of non-electric vehicles, according to a recent study from the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.

While it certainly isn’t surprising that there are many people who have a poor opinion of their experiences at car dealerships, it is interesting that EV buyers report such a notably worse experience than buyers of gasmobiles.


This isn’t exactly news though, this unfortunate reality is one of the main reasons that Tesla has fought so hard for the right to sell direct to customers.

On that note — the study also found, unsurprisingly, that Tesla earned industry high scores. Again, certainly not a surprise, but given the fact that the dealerships are still having some successes fighting off Tesla (see: Michigan), it’s something worth repeating.

Of course, this also matches well with our Nissan LEAF shopper survey results, and you can read more about why the experience often sucks so much via that link.

Green Car Congress provides some specifics on the research:

In the working paper, they present preliminary findings from a study of the retail market for PEVs in which they conducted 43 interviews with six automakers and 20 new car dealers in California’s major metro markets for PEVs. They also analyzed national and state-level J.D. Power 2013 Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) study data on customer satisfaction with new car dealerships and Tesla stores.

The SSI study captures 12 different PEV models from eight vehicle manufacturers, including GM (Chevrolet Volt); Nissan (LEAF); Tesla (Model S); Ford (Focus EV, C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi); Honda (Fit EV and Accord PHEV); Toyota (Prius Plug-in and RAV4 EV); Mitsubishi (i-MiEV); and Daimler (Smart Fortwo ED). It did not include CODA and Fisker nor models introduced after the survey period such as the Chevy Spark; Fiat 500e; BMW i3 and i8, or the Cadillac ELR. While Tesla Motors was 23 part of the study, California data was unavailable since Tesla opted out of providing data in the state of California. The ITS team also examined exploratory data from survey questions co-developed with the Center for Sustainable 28 Energy (CSE) and incorporated in the PEV Demographic and Diffusion questionnaire disseminated to PEV purchase rebate applicants.


The largest takeaway from this work was the notation of the fact that “EV buyers universally report lower satisfaction with the dealer purchase experience than buyers of conventional vehicles.”

Note that there’s no ambiguity or subtlety to that statement — universally, is the word used.

“We found that on average, plug-in vehicle buyers rated dealers much lower in sales satisfaction than conventional vehicle buyers. In contrast, buyers ranked Tesla much more favorably. The magnitude of these disparities is extraordinary by industry standards and indicate the problem is likely systemic. … Tesla’s industry-high marks suggest new retail approaches could lift satisfaction scores, engendering positive word of mouth that could hasten consumer adoption.”

Amongst the findings, the researchers note that EVs would require new retail approaches — including new means of “building dealer competence” — in order to address the issues raised by the report. As it stands, they argue that training and certification methods are inadequate for the preparation of sales staff, with regard to EV technologies.

No argument there. Though a complete revamping of the industry may really be what’s in order, do the laws prohibiting direct sales (thusly protecting dealers) truly have a purpose anymore? Why not just allow manufacturers to sell direct and cut out the middleman.

That may sound unlikely, but owing to Tesla’s recent legal successes, it’s not as unlikely as you might think. A number of prominent car manufacturers have actually come out recently questioning the necessity of the dealership model.

Image Credit: ICCT

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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