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Sierra Club Survey Says 30% Of US Dealers REFUSE To Sell Electric Cars

30% of US car dealers tell the Sierra Club they refuse to sell electric cars. Pretty soon they won’t have to because they will be out of business.

Every year, the Sierra Club conducts its Electric Vehicle Shopping Experience survey to find out more about the electric car shopping experience. Some of the results from the survey this year might surprise you. Around the CleanTechnica organic smoothie bar today, there was a great deal of consternation when we read this statistic from the Sierra Club’s 2023 Rev Up report:

“Some car dealerships refuse or are still not ready to sell EVs to consumers. Of the 66% of car dealerships that did not have an EV for sale, 45% of those dealers reported they would not offer an EV for sale regardless of automaker allocation and supply chain constraints.”

That means that 30% of US dealers are unwilling to sell EVs. Surprised? We sure were. This is like an electronics store saying it will not sell smartphones or flat screen TVs. Why on Earth would a retailer that makes a living selling stuff voluntarily refuse to sell items customers want? But wait, there’s more — much more — startling news tucked away inside this year’s Rev Up report. [Note: the Sierra Club survey does not distinguish between battery electric and plug-in hybrid models.]

  • 66%of car dealerships nationwide did not have a single EV available for sale, while 34% of dealers did have an EV available for sale. Supply chain, inventory issues, and automaker allocation of EVs to dealerships created EV availability barriers. Of the 66% of car dealerships that did not have an EV for sale, 44% reported they would offer an EV for sale if they could get one.
  • Only 27% of dealers in the Western region had an EV available for sale — lower than all other regions. However, the Western region sold far more EVs than the rest of the country and accounted for 45% of the nation’s EV sales in 2022, indicating that the low availability is a result of high sales turnover and high consumer demand.
  • Mercedes-Benz had the best EV availability among car brands. 90% of the Mercedes Benz dealerships surveyed had an EV available for sale.
  • Toyota and Honda had the worst EV availability. Only 11% of Honda dealers and 15% of Toyota dealers had an EV available for sale.

Charts courtesy of the Sierra Club.

The 2023 Electric Cars Survey

In the introduction to this year’s Rev Up report, the Sierra Club says, “Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more mainstream and technology has advanced significantly over the years. EVs produce significantly lower lifetime emissions than conventional gasoline-powered cars, even when accounting for mining for critical minerals, EV manufacturing, and the electricity for charging.

“This report examines the availability of EVs being sold at car dealerships and the barriers to consumers who are in the market for an EV. The stark #1 finding is that two thirds of dealers don’t even have one EV for sale. While some dealerships are still reluctant to fully embrace EVs, many dealers are expressing a newfound eagerness to sell EVs.

“However, it is the responsibility of manufacturers to deliver more EVs to all dealers. The ultimate conclusion is that automakers must invest more in EV production to match consumer demand that is at a record high.”

ZEV vs. Non-ZEV States

There is an old expression in sales that goes like this: “You can’t sell from an empty wagon.” It dates back to the days when people with pushcarts roamed the streets selling everything from fruits and vegetables to cookware, clothing, meats, and fish. Imagine, if you will (thanks, Rod Serling) a pushcart — let’s call it Cart A — coming down your street laden with fresh fruits — apples, pears, peaches, plums — all neatly arranged in orderly rows.

Now switch the image in your head to a cart — let’s call it Cart B — with one apple, two pears, no peaches, and a collection of plums that look like they might have accompanied the Roman legions when Julius Caesar discovered that Gallia in tres partes divisa est. If the two carts are placed side by side, which one would you choose? If you said Cart A, go to the head of the class, you are now a certified marketing genius.

Charts courtesy of the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club survey found that the portion of dealers that had electric cars for sale was about the same in California and the states that adhere to its zero emissions guidelines as in the states that do not have such guidelines — roughly two thirds in both cases. But, here’s the difference: In those ZEV states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington — the dealers are selling all the electric cars they can get their hands on and are screaming for more. In the non-ZEV states, there is no supply because there is little demand and manufacturers, naturally, are sending what few EVs they have to the states where dealers are clamoring for them.

Thirty five percent of dealerships in ZEV states had an available EV for sale, while 65 percent did not. Of the 65 percent of dealers that did not have an available EV for sale, 52 percent would offer an EV for sale if they could, while 41 percent would not. In 2022, the 16 ZEV states sold 580,487 EVs, representing 61 percent of EV sales nationwide, the Sierra Cub report said.

Thirty-three percent of dealerships in non-ZEV states offered an EV for sale, while 67 percent did not. Of the 67 percent of dealers that did not have an available EV for sale, 41 percent would offer an EV for sale if they could, while 47 percent would not. In 2022, the 35 non-ZEV states sold 368,824 EVs, representing 39 percent of EV sales nationwide.

Overall, although EV availability between ZEV and non-ZEV states was similar, the Sierra Club found that ZEV states accounted for a disproportionate amount of the nation’s total EV sales. This suggests that the ZEV policy spearheaded by California is working as intended and is driving higher EV uptake in states that have adopted California’s zero emissions policies.

The Takeaway

Automakers are spending hundreds of billions of dollars to bring electric cars to market, but a large number of US car dealers refuse to stock them, educate their customers about them, or train their sales staff how to answer questions about them. These are the same people who crow about the good things they are doing for their community because they buy some Little League uniforms once a year.

How is it possible, when those communities are being ravaged by wildfires, drought, and more powerful storms (not to mention air pollution), not to help them mitigate the harm from global heating? Willful stupidity is one possible explanation. We would be delighted to hear from any of the 30% of US car dealer who refuse to sell electric cars about how their decision makes any sense and why such anti-social behavior should be protected by dealer franchise laws.

There really is only one possible explanation — greed. Prove us wrong. We dare you.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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