Ipsos RDA Research Shows US Auto Dealers Not Prepared To Sell Electric Vehicles

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During the months of September and October 2017, Ipsos RDA deployed secret shoppers covering 11 auto brands selling electric vehicles across the 10 largest markets for electric vehicles in the US, with the intent being to determine dealer preparedness for the rapid growth of the sector.

Altogether, secret shoppers canvassed 141 different dealerships in the US selling electric vehicles in major markets — with the secret shoppers in question subsequently filling out a scorecard including up to 50 sales process attributes.

The results of that experiment — comprising the inaugural Ipsos RDA Electric Vehicle (EV) Sales Experience and Best Practice Study — shouldn’t be at all surprising to those with experience in the matter.

The general reality is that dealership staff are unprepared, that practices are inconsistent, that there are generally very limited inventories of electric vehicle models, and that information on the ground is often sparse.

Here’s more from the press release: “Tesla sales staff, advantaged given their EV-only product line, exude a passion for electric vehicles and are equipped with the information needed to help consumers make informed decisions. This is not the case for traditional brand dealers who sell EVs alongside other vehicles. The EV sales process, in many instances, has not been differentiated from the traditional and, in effect, is passive. The availability of inventory, as well as critical EV ownership information in-store (from the sales staff or marketing materials) and online, is concerning and leaves shoppers with unanswered questions.

“Furthermore, the sales process experience at traditional brand dealerships is largely inconsistent. Consumers shopping for a specific EV model may have distinctly different experiences from one dealership to another in the same brand family — one well informed, educational and supportive, the other completely lacking.

“These core issues tend to result in dealers moving consumers toward other, non-EV, models they are more comfortable selling. One key issue revealed in these findings was the belief held by some dealers that the consumer must be prepared to compromise on their EV shopping experience expectations. This included expecting limited or no inventory to physical evaluate or select from. Rather than search for, or order, the desired vehicle, many shoppers are pressed to accept what is available — including hybrids or even gas-engine alternatives.”

Based on what I’ve heard to date from various buyers that’s par the course in many regions/markets. Self-defeating from the perspective of gaining and keeping customers … to say the least.

“Attempting to switch a shopper away from their EV interest is not only damaging the likelihood of a potential sale, but it can damage the trust a consumer has with the dealership,” noted Mike VanNieuwkuyk, SVP, Ipsos RDA.

Something else revealed by the study that’s very interesting is that electric vehicles are only very rarely seen on the showroom floor, or in marketing materials, nor for that matter do many dealerships have designated electric vehicle sales reps.

“This lack of support for the EV shopper lessens the likelihood that they will make the decision to go electric,” stated Todd Markusic, VP, Research at Ipsos RDA. “It is surprising that consumers often were not offered an EV test drive, a key experience that showcases the uniqueness of its performance benefits. Most of the time the consumer had to request one.”

While none of the study findings seems too likely to surprise those reading this, the study does seem to support the idea that there’s a lot of room for improvement … and also that newcomer firms that employ an approach similar to Tesla’s can likely stand to benefit as a result.

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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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