Buying an EV? Expect a Crapshoot of an Experience at the Dealer, Study Finds

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

You’ve decided to take the plunge. To lay down significant cash for a personal vehicle that burns no gasoline and isn’t a bicycle. Unlike the plethora of dino juice-sipping models competing for your attention, your choice of electric vehicles is still modest, albeit growing, and comes with a list of ownership concerns never mentioned around traditional cars.

Range, charging times, home connections, and the impact of temperature on the battery pack (and its longevity) are just some of the questions a salesman might be asked about. Pricing is easy.

This past fall, research firm Ipsos RDA Automotive sent secret shoppers into 141 EV-selling dealerships in the U.S., where the spies feigned interest in purchasing one of 11 fully electric models. The experience was a wildly mixed bag. It’s not entirely surprising, but in many showrooms dominated by gas-powered cars and SUVs, the sale the dealer employee attempted to close was not for the EV the secret shopper came in to buy.

The results of the study are compiled in Ipsos RDA’s inaugural Electric Vehicle (EV) Sales Experience and Best Practice Study. In it, Tesla gets good marks for a sales staff with nothing but electric vehicles to sell, and thus, plenty of information to give.

It get more complex — and confusing — when a traditional automaker attempts to sell an EV. Uninformed sales staff, a lack of physical vehicles to see and drive, and pressure to switch to a (higher profit) gas-powered vehicle that isn’t still a mystery to salespeople all factored heavily into the secret shoppers’ experiences.

“The lack of consistency in the EV shopping experience, even within the same brand, highlights the need for better product knowledge and support to effectively position electric vehicles with the U.S. automotive consumer” said Todd Markusic, vice president of research at Ipsos RDA.

“This lack of support for the EV shopper lessens the likelihood that they will make the decision to go electric.”

By trying to sway EV-minded customers away from the vehicle of their choice, salespeople threaten not only the sale, but also “the trust a consumer has with the dealership,” added Mike VanNieuwkuyk, Ipsos RDA’s senior VP.

Given the EV segment’s tiny sliver of market share, it’s not surprising that dealers wouldn’t devote showroom space to a low-volume model, especially one that probably loses the automaker money with each unit built. Still, the lack of a dedicated EV salesperson made for a tedious experience at many dealers. Also, despite a test drive being an unavoidable request from those looking to buy an EV, it wasn’t common to find one on dealer lots.

While this would be understandable if the dealer in question called Jerkwater, South Dakota home, the mystery shoppers focused only on stores in the top 10 EV-buying markets in the U.S. — none of which is more than a few hours’ drive to saltwater. If not for profit, you’d think the good PR that comes from having a segment-leading model would be enough motivation for better customer service.

In November 2017, the best-selling non-Tesla EV was — by far — the Chevrolet Bolt, which saw its sales reach a new record of 2,987 units in the U.S.

[Image: General Motors]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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6 of 27 comments
  • Sgtjmack Sgtjmack on Dec 13, 2017

    You do realize that electricity is produced by burning one form of "dino juice" or another, so since energy is never destroyed, in essence EV's still suck on that hose...

    • See 1 previous
    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Dec 13, 2017

      @sgtjmack - it has been proven that electrical power from a typical generation plant is still more environmentally "friendly" than running ICE vehicles.

  • Sgtjmack Sgtjmack on Dec 13, 2017

    It is unfortunate, but I can also poo t blame towards the manufacturers. It is up to them to have the factory training reps make their rounds when there are new products that have or about to hit the dealerships. I remember waiting many, many months after the Prius hit before they showed up and saught us all about how it worked, and the same when the 2nd gen hit. However, they do have some online training, but that isn't the same, especially when you have a lot of questions. I can also blame certain responses on fear, fear that you'll say the wrong thing and the client won't buy. This is centered around the battery range, charge times and of course temp changes. I personally always tell them the truth and let them decide if they want to make the change and take the chances. I also had a lot of people come in and look at the new tech vehicles, like the car and ready to make a deal, only to call their insurance company and find out that their premiums will double, and either walk away, or get an I.C.E vehicle.

    • See 1 previous
    • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Dec 13, 2017

      "...only to call their insurance company and find out that their premiums will double" What kind of 'new tech' car does that? My Leaf cost the same as anything else to insure.

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