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Car Salespeople: Get Your EV Acts Together!

What’s your experience been like at car dealerships when you’ve brought up the subject of EVs? Let us know.

Car salespeople are some of the most maligned customer service reps ever. We’re wary of them, knowing they watch for subtle signs to read our minds about buying intent. They’re known as cutthroat, always with their focus on the next sale and ever mindful about their generally meager monthly revenue. Car salespeople rank among the top 10 least ethical professions.

But stereotyping all car salespeople into one dismal category isn’t healthy for our world. So a recent geographic move offered me the chance to see what kind of reception I’d get at a car dealership when I needed a little assistance with my EV. Maybe the usual car salespeople reputation would be so last century…

car salespeople

Graphic by Carolyn Fortuna/ CleanTechnica

I just moved to the southeast coast of Florida. In many ways, it’s the dream-come-true life — sultry days, gently swaying palm trees, long walks on the beach. Yet there are also regular routines to be carried out — groceries, medical appointments, cleaning, and upkeep — aside from boccie, pickleball, and laps in the pool.

And, if you’re a person who owns a zero emission electric vehicle, there must be time devoted to charging.

As I now live in a condo complex, I find that it is taking lots of advocacy to educate the homeowners’ association about the value of having an electric vehicle charger on the premises. I’m willing to pay for collective electricity via an HOA charger, or I could install my own with a meter. That’s a topic for another article, honestly.

Until some solution happens, like many EV drivers I’ve had to locate local EV chargers and hang out in those areas while my 2015 Nissan LEAF charges. There are only 4 chargers available to the public within 20 miles of my new home, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading, walking, and touring around as my EV charges at these few locations. Not really a problem, more of an inconvenience, as I work online and can usually grab a WiFi signal someplace if I need it.

Recently I decided that having another LEAF key fob would be valuable, so I decided to double-dip — I’d drive to a place that had a charger and have the key configured at the same time.

I pulled into the dealership and slowly drove around its perimeter, scanning the lot borders and buildings for a charger. No luck. As I hit a dead end, I noticed the back bays of the service center and a technician staring up at a car on a lift. I stepped out and waited to get his attention.

“Sorry to bother you,” I started, “but can you tell me where the car charger is?”

“Sure, no problem,” he smiled. “There’s one on the side of the service center.” He pointed through the cement walls to the opposite end of the building.

“Thanks! I totally didn’t see it,” I noted, and, within a couple of minutes, I had slid the LEAF next to a vestibule and an older but functioning car charger. As I plugged in, a 20-something male parked nearby and watched me. His eyes were wide with curiosity.

“So great to get on a charger,” I began to chat. “They’re kinda hard to find around here.”

“I’ve never seen someone use a charger like that before, honestly,” he admitted.

“Yeah?” I responded. “It’s so easy… and really affordable! These chargers are all free.” I looked around conspiratorially, reading him as somebody to whom a good deal would appeal. “I haven’t paid for, um, fuel — electricity in a while.”

“Wow. How do you like it?” he asked, pointing to the LEAF.

“I love it! It’s a great car,” I answered as we both started to walk toward the service center door for our respective appointments. “I totally recommend it. I get about 84 miles range, and it’s plenty for me to drive around town and the marina area.”

“Who’s next?” the service adviser called out. I introduced myself and explained the reason for my visit. During the intake process, the service adviser told me she needed to get the VIN number off the vehicle, so I followed her out to my locked vehicle.

“Do you really like this car?” she asked, her teeth clenched and left lip slightly curled upward as she pulled the LEAF door toward her.

I read her body language cues and responded at the other end of the emotional spectrum. “Oh! I absolutely love it!” Arms waved. Drama 101 revisited.

“Really? Hmmm,” she replied, looking up at me quizzically then around the lot at the vast number of gas-powered vehicles.

A few minutes later, she accompanied me to the parts department, where a computer scan of available inventory at this and a sister dealership located a sum total of zero key fobs for a Nissan LEAF. “We’ll have to order one,” the parts guy announced.

The service adviser shrugged knowingly.

Later, after a bit of walking in the area, I returned to my EV and determined it had enough charge for me that day. I robotically unplugged and hung the cable, shut the charging door,  stepped in, and engaged the starter. I noticed a young-ish lot attendant shuffling around while I was readying to leave. Pulling out, I slowed to reset my mirrors. I saw the attendant jump into a white LEAF and hurry it over to the charger. He leaped out and, with ease, set it to charge. He dashed away to attend to other responsibilities on the lot.

Not much has changed, I guess, since a 2016 Sierra Club survey of more than 300 dealerships around the country where volunteers recorded their experience shopping for an electric vehicle. The results were dismaying — more than 1 in 5 Ford and Chevy dealers had failed to charge an EV so it could be taken for a test drive. Only around 1/2 of salespeople explained how to fuel a plug-in vehicle, and only 1/3 discussed the tax credits available to buyers.

Photo retrieved from energy.gov

That report indicated that dealers may be reluctant to sell EVs because they don’t know much about them. But the lot attendant at the dealership I visited (which does sell EVs) knew how to fire up an EV. And why aren’t car salespeople whose livelihoods are invested in automobiles doing everything they can to learn about EVs? Why aren’t they leading the charge (pun intended) toward sustainable transportation? They should demanding training to do so fast, considering that, in 5 years, it is anticipated that 20% of cars on the road will be electric.

The young guy heading for a service appointment was fascinated by seeing an EV charge up-front-and-personal. We need to offer regular people in everyday living situations the opportunity to get up-front-and-personal with an EV. Let’s offer people test rides. Give ’em a chance to practice charging. Hear tutorials about the full-life costs of the electric vehicles. Learn about what all-electric transportation really entails.

Like many advocates, my quest to educate others about EVs has just begun. I’m heading to a Breakfast with the Mayor tomorrow in hope of getting her ear about the need for more than one public charger in our fair city. And I’d like to pull together a community EV day next spring where people who are curious about sustainable transportation would get to talk to real EV drivers about their experiences.

Stay tuned. If you’re in the area, get in touch — we can use all the help we can to educate the masses about the power and potential of electric vehicles.


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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She's won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. As part of her portfolio divestment, she purchased 5 shares of Tesla stock. Please follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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