Do Mainstream Car Buyers Trust Dealers Over Tesla & Rivian? Maybe!

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It’s a common refrain among early EV adopters: people don’t trust car dealers. Given that more than well over 90% of new cars sold in America are still bought through franchise car dealerships, can that possibly be true? A new survey of “e-curious” car buyers seems to indicate that it’s not, with only 24% of those surveyed saying they’d consider buying a car from an “EV only” brand like Tesla, Rivian, or Lucid.

Granted, the knowledge that nearly 1 in 4 new car buyers would even consider buying a car from a direct-sales competitor should give the OEMs and dealer groups pause, but the fact remains that 76% of e-curious Americans are not (yet?) ready to buy from a specialist electric brand. What’s more, the latest survey from market research firm Escalent shows that dependability — not range! — is now the number one concern of potential EV shoppers.

What’s driving this market shift away from the narratives we’ve become used to as EV proponents? Escalent thinks it comes down to marketing. “While brands such as Tesla and Rivian continue to make headlines as the fresh entrants into an industry dominated by decades-old multinational corporations, many consumers have taken notice of the strides familiar auto brands have been taking to market—and improve—their electrified offerings,” says KC Boyce, vice president with the Automotive & Mobility and Energy practices at Escalent. “The idea that a new player to the automotive market will remain the leader as more and more established brands expand their EV offerings is far from a certainty.”

Seeing as we’re not all posting this on our MySpace pages that we logged into using our AOL emails, that first mover advantage may not be all it’s cracked up to be. As such, there might be something to the idea that e-curious car buyers considering their first EV are taking greater notice of legacy brand EVs specifically because the legacy brands are spending millions to market to them. While others are, you know, not.

What does that mean for the future of Tesla? Tesla CEO and “Technoking” Elon Musk seems more than willing to start a crack litigation team to defend Tesla’s honor against online trollswill he be as quick to start a marketing department to defend Tesla’s EV market share? Given TSLA’s precipitous drop in share price — the company is down nearly 40% (more than the overall market) year-to-date, for myriad reasons — how much longer can the company afford to rely on Tweets and drag racing videos to generate sales?

The Legacy Brands Aren’t Doing Such a Great Job, Either

Despite generating a ton of awareness for their new EVs, even the legacy brands are falling short in communicating the greater message that EVs are ready for prime-time. You can see this in the fact that, while those surveyed by Escalent placed dependability, good value for money, the latest safety technologies, inexpensive maintenance, and innovative features and technologies as their “top 5 features,” only 5% to 31% of respondents believe that any electric carmaker — legacy or startup — is currently delivering on those five attributes.

“You know why?” my friend, BJ Birtwell, asked, when I first showed him the results of the Escalent survey. “It’s because the EV industry is beyond the early adopter stage, and entered the first layer of e-curious consumers that need extra assurance. Early adopters are risk tolerant. The e-curious are more risk averse, and seek brands with a track record. This is a big opportunity for ‘legacy’ brands.”

How do we get those “early majority” adopters, then, to see how good EVs have gotten? If you ask guys like BJ — who happens to be the CEO of the Armory Agency and creator of the Electrify Expo — the answer is: “You get butts in seats.”

Makes sense to me, but I’m obviously biased when it comes to experiential marketing. And (let’s face it), I do have a habit of holding the franchise dealer/right to repair model in higher esteem than the direct-to-consumer sales/corporate monopoly side of things. What about you guys? This seems like a topic that’s ripe for discussion, so scroll on down to the comments section and let us know what you think of the Escalent report, which you can read in its entirety here.

Sources: Escalent, Barron’s, Ford.

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