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Why Dealers Make the Difference in the EV Game: Part 1

Raquel Soat
Oct 09, 2018

Smart Car 4

Buying a new car can be an exciting (or stressful) experience for consumers. We value our set of wheels and the thrill of getting into a new vehicle and—for most—buying a vehicle begins at a dealership. Having been in my role on Guidehouse Insights’ Transportation Innovations team for over a year, I decided it was time to start looking at purchasing a new EV. I ultimately decided to wait to purchase the Hyundai Kona Electric, and turned my summer travels into an experiment by test driving EVs in three different states. In total, I test drove four cars in three states over the last 2 months to understand the barriers to buying a plug-in EV (PEV), and my experiences shed some light on the difficulties of purchasing an EV. In the first of my two-part blog series, I will describe my experiences and the changes that are necessary at the dealership level to grow EV adoption.

The Results Are In…

Overall, test driving EVs in three different states taught me one thing: dealerships do not know nearly enough about the EVs they are selling and hence pose a barrier to PEV adoption. Those that I spoke with lacked knowledge on charging times, incentives, how and where to charge, and vehicle range—to name a few concerning aspects. In states with strong PEV policies, such as California, I expected the dealers I visited to be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about EVs, but quickly realized that was not the case. 

When I arrived at the dealership in Los Angeles, I stated that I wanted to test drive the automaker’s plug-in hybrid EV (PHEV) option. After taking a look at the inside of the vehicle, I asked if the automaker produced an all-electric vehicle, to which the salesman responded with a quick “no.” Strike one—at the time, the automakers produced one BEV and one PHEV model. Once we were on the road I asked about the electric range, to which the salesman semi-confidently answered “about 100 miles on electric.” Strike two—the PHEV I was driving had a pure electric range of 26 miles. Finally, I asked whether there were any special offers through the state or federal government to purchase an EV, and I received a drawn-out response that basically equated to “I really have no idea.” Strike three—the federal and California state incentive would have been applied to purchasing the vehicle I was test driving. Given that California is the top-selling PEV state and has ZEV mandates, I expected more knowledgeable salesmen and encouragement to buy electric.

In part two of this blog series, I will discuss my dealership experiences in Colorado and Michigan, both non-ZEV states, and potential solutions to the EV dealership problem.