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Published on December 31st, 2019 | by Carolyn Fortuna

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10 Ways That Car Dealerships Can Step Up To Sell Electric Vehicles

December 31st, 2019 by  


“Most Americans aren’t interested in electric vehicles. That’s a cold fact.” Forbes, September, 2019

J.D. Power‘s Q2 2019 Mobility Confidence Index was 36 (on a 100-point scale) for self-driving vehicles and 55 for battery-electric vehicles. “Out of the box, these scores are not encouraging,” said Kristin Kolodge, executive director, driver interaction & human machine interface research.

In June, BMW director of development Klaus Frölich said, “There are no customer requests for BEVs – none.”

Those comments put the desire for all-electric transportation directly on the consumer. What the consumer wants, the consumer gets, right? Well, not exactly. Any undergrad who’s taken a course in marketing knows what a science it is to market a product to a target audience. Car dealers across the US can do a whole lot better in creating an environment where EVs are an integral part of their catalog and EV customers are welcomed. Let’s spend some time as the new year is upon us to outline ways that US car dealerships can embrace EVs much, much more.

Sell us your electric vehicles. Adventure awaits! Photo by Carolyn Fortuna, CleanTechnica

The beginning market growth for EVs is progressing, even against a number of barriers to prevent their more widespread adoption:

  • perceived additional cost of the new technology
  • misunderstandings about the relative convenience of range and charge times
  • consumer confusion about the availability and viability of the technology

Consumer awareness is fundamentally tied to understanding the potential benefits of electric vehicles. As recently as November, 2019, research suggests that EV consumer awareness remains low and stagnant, which may hinder market growth and inhibit the climate mitigation potential of EVs. Mechanisms must be implemented to contribute to overall EV receptivity through fleet activities, as they can increase electric vehicle sales, usage, and exposure.

But car dealers may actually be one of the biggest barriers to EV adoption. Researchers and EV early adopters have called for a reciprocity in educating salespeople and the public about electric cars. Yet dealers and manufacturers seem to be putting as little effort as possible into selling EVs. Advertisement spending for trucks and SUVs is monumental compared to marketing for EVs, and EV buyers are more often than not frustrated by their experience at dealerships.

Our own CleanTechnica readers had many comments recently over the disinterest of car dealer personnel in promoting EVs.

“What I find strange is the salespeople not educating themselves on something they can sell and make commission on.”

“It’s the old problem of being paid to not believe.”

“No dealer employee dependent on their paycheck wants to become a pariah by evangelizing a product their bosses hate. I have little doubt there are many ex-salespeople who were enthusiastic about EVs, only to be made an example of for the other employees.”

“When I did go to a local dealer about a Bolt, not only did he feed me bunk to try and get me to buy an ICE car, he also refuse to do a Google search to check on what chargers were in the area.”

What do we recommend to car dealerships to increase their EV-friendliness?


1) Market EVs right alongside the Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs)

Whether it’s on local television, an internet banner, or social media pop-ups, consumers begin their shopping experiences through the screens in their lives. So it makes sense for car dealers to showcase EVs in the same way that all other vehicles on the lot are featured in ads. And, you know, with EV buyers looking for vehicles across several car classes, especially the intermediate and SUV/CUV classes, there’s a clear pathway here across a broad range of EV models.

2) Educate the Sales Staff — Thoroughly

Sales personnel need — and deserve — professional development in all things EVs. The floor staff as well as the financial folks behind the desks need to be able to share with potential buyers the features of an EV and the differences as a machine it represents in comparison to an ICE vehicle. That means having at least a basic knowledge of batteries, charging options, rebates, and vehicle life expectancy. And, instead of dedicating an outlier salesperson to be the EV expert, make sure all sales personnel are knowledgeable and confident about selling EVs. It’s the future, after all.

3) Showcase EVs on the Lot

I think it’s invigorating to drive by a car lot and see all the hoods open with flags flying and colors splashing. Call me a sap, okay — I know that these methods to attract driveby attention are kinda kitschy. But if EVs are part of this visibility broadcast, then there is a sense of belongingness. You’ll be saying, “EVs are here, and we want you to buy them.” You’ll get the attention of newcomers as well of people who are interested in clean transportation and want to explore what you have to offer in the EV options. At least place a row of EVs where potential buyers can find them — not stuck in some back corner with the mechanics’ personal cars.

4) Have Some EVs Charged Up & Ready for Test Drives

Have the EVs that are dedicated for test drives fully charged and ready to go at all times. Treat the EVs on your lot with the same daily routine and care that an owner would. A full charge shows that these EVs are respected elements of the dealership’s overall catalog and instills confidence in the potential buyer. It also indicates that the vehicles aren’t just an add-on or requirement to be on the lot by the manufacturer. It validates that the EV lines are here to stay. It shows that, with expected larger EV market shares over the next 5 years, dealerships are beginning the transition to other revenue producing streams in order to offset the fiscal loss wrapped up in ICE oil changes, maintenance, and repairs.

5) Let Range Be Only One of Many Features that You Describe in Your Sales Spiel

Along with availability of charging stations and still often high EV purchase cost, the range of EVs is a top concern for potential buyers. Many new car buyers think that they need 200 or more miles of range for their driving routines. While the range rating of an EV is often the featured — and pessimistic — topic of EV talk, the conversation can move easily to matching daily schedules and routines to particular vehicles and their range capacity. Many people will be rather surprised to learn that the average person drives about 27 miles per day, which makes charging an easy action.

6) Describe an EV Driving Experience in Personal Ways

Driving is a very personal experience. Since Fitzgerald first chronicled the US fascination with the automobile in The Great Gatsby, the car has been center stage, to the point that today’s ICE, according the The Atlantic, has “unrivaled staying power for an industrial-age, pistons-and-brute-force machine in an era so dominated by silicon and software.” But who’s to say that the history, culture, and rituals that have embodied the automobile to this point of time cannot continue, even transform, with a new generation of EVs? Car dealers can help the customer to envision a personal driving experience that’s invigorating and that also contributes positively to environmental, health, and economic costs of protecting the planet.

7) Teach about Charging Options

More often than not, individuals who stop me and ask about how I charge my Nissan Leaf think that it’s a really complicated process. Like anything new and unfamiliar, charging takes some instruction. But car dealerships can shatter the illusion of EV charging confusion by offering hands-on tutorials in charging. Once people get chances to be active EV learners, the mystery of charging will evaporate, and a little embarrassment may result as well when they see firsthand how simple it really is. We can use the analogy of the “full tank” every morning if a home charger is an option. We might even share that England is making it easier for owners of EVs as well as future EV owners by introducing a mandatory electric car charging point for each newly built home, so, while it’s novel in the US, charging is becoming commonplace in other regions of the world.

Introducing customers to apps that point to nearby chargers is also really important. They can help customers understand electrical usage and local utility incentives and metering issues. And making customers who buy EVs at the dealership feel welcome to charge there must be part of the larger equation.  Who knows? Maybe it’s time for car dealerships to get into the charging equipment business by contracting with local installers to provide equipment, installation, and a maintenance contract.

8) Outline Sustainable Electricity Options

When a customer adds a residential solar energy system, then an EV can be charged for fully emissions-free transportation. Even a small solar panel array with only 10 solar panels can provide enough power to charge a vehicle’s battery.

The cost of solar is falling rapidly, and companies like Tesla are providing a full sustainable energy experience with all-electric cars and solarglass roofs. Hey! Here’s another business venture into which car dealers should enter: solar systems. And why not? They’re a viable part of the growing green economy, and car dealerships have the opportunity to establish themselves as forward-looking when they embrace solar and all-electric transportation.

9) Use Your Dealership as the Foundation of a Local Electric Vehicle Community

Often centrally located within dense geographic regions, car dealerships have the potential to become hubs for community activities — if only they’d take advantage of the opportunities before them. They could start with introducing EVs to the local areas through EV awareness days. I attended one last autumn in Hyannis, MA. The Show and Ride Experience offered a free, low-risk opportunity for everyday folks to chat with real-life electric vehicle drivers, test-drive several models of EVs, talk to representatives from environmental and energy organizations, and learn how to reduce their carbon footprint. A comparable event once a month on a Saturday would attract lots of curious individuals and establish the car dealership as a goodwill ambassador of a sustainable future.

Wouldn’t it be cool to feature a Formula E car and driver as another EV public awareness activity? I know I’ll always remember when an Indy car was placed on display at a local department store when I was a kid. It was so small and so thrilling. Let’s translate that excitement for the upcoming generation of car owners.

10) Car Dealerships Can Acknowledge It’s an Industry in Transformation

More than anything, it’s time for the US car dealerships to step up and admit that an era of burning fuel that spews toxins and particulate waste into the atmosphere and induces cancer, lung disease, and asthma is moving into our memories. With the next generation of car drivers having tech central to their everyday lives, it makes sense to reach out to this demographic where they live. Dealerships should accentuate their EV social media presences, connect with organizations like Electrify America, and reinforce the EV lifestyle to underscore the idea that charging stations already exist. US car dealerships need to celebrate EVs and help consumers to understand their power and potential for daily life. 
 

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About the Author

Carolyn Fortuna, 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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