By on December 12, 2017

2018 Chevrolet Bolt - Image: Chevrolet

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]

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27 Comments on “Buying an EV? Expect a Crapshoot of an Experience at the Dealer, Study Finds...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Not much has changed since I dealt with my local Nissan dealer from 2012-15 with my Leaf.

    The sales experience was just OK, but service was clueless about the car. My questions about its diminishing winter range were met with “it’s just fine” (sort of like many other dealer experiences), and upon return from a major body shop repair, the battery was left nearly empty and I barely made it home 6 miles away.

    One humorous footnote: While processing the sales paperwork, they kept reminding me of the free oil changes I would receive.

    I ignore listings of dealer Fast-DC chargers on PlugShare because they’re often blocked by ICE cars. My Nissan dealer was the same.

    I understand it, though. The dealer exists to make money, and to push higher-margin product. EVs aren’t that.

    • 0 avatar
      Frédéric-Alexandre Decelles

      I sell cars for a living. I do sell electric cars. I’m know my EV’S.

      1- I sell a product. My job is to show the qualities of it.
      2- Clients asks me about range anxiety, resale value, degradation of the battery, winter low charge, space in garage, new upcoming products (it’s better next year), price, wants also rebates.

      We have a ton of ‘I wish’ EV clients. They show up with a million questions and EVERYONE of those answers can be a ‘I’ll think about it’ ; I have to talk to my wife, I’ll wait a year for the next model etc.

      The only way I’m going to sell an EV to those analytical people is let them believe it’s the best thing for THEM and shut up. Agree with the customer and smile.

      EV People have their worldview and are biased like crazy.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    “salespeople threaten not only the sale, but also “the trust a consumer has with the dealership,””

    Mistake #1: having trust in a dealership.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    Sales staff are usually pretty uninformed about any of the vehicles they sell. Trying to push you to a more expensive choice is what they’re about.

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    Zeus helps those who help themselves. Before even stepping in a dealer, buyer needs to ask does my garage have the wiring/socket/amps to handle Level 2 charger?

    etc. etc. etc. but i guess spending 15 mins. researching on the internet is too much for some people

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      For the uninformed, I think the charger question is a significant obstacle to getting an EV. What most people don’t know is that a $400 charger will do the job, and it’s no more complex than wiring in an electric range.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        Either an indoor or outdoor RV/campground/stove NEMA 14-50 box or 30 amp dryer outlet does the job. Mine is portable and I have “dog bone” adapters for NEMA 14-50, 240v 30 amp dryer outlets, and 120v outlets. Some garages come pre-wired with dryer outlets. If you don’t have a garage, you can put the charger outdoors. Just have an outlet installed on the side of the house.

        The best feature of a good portable is that if you find a good 120v 20 amp outlet, you can adjust it to take advantage of the higher current capability. I’ve had no problem taking the car from 20% to 100% overnight at 18 amps on a 120v outlet.

      • 0 avatar
        brettc

        I was surprised when I looked it up recently (briefly thought I might buy a Volt).

        The chargers are cheap on Amazon, and all you need to do is install an appropriately rated double pole breaker in your panel and run the right wire to it. Not complicated and not that expensive in the long run.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Salesmen aren’t “threatening the sale.” They are rightly qualifying the customer, to see if their lifestyle fits with the demands of an EV. Amazingly, most people don’t enter a dealership with a decent understanding of what that brand sells, or a decent grasp of their family’s vehicle needs.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      “They are rightly qualifying the customer, to see if their lifestyle fits with the demands of an ……..”

      REALLY?

      The majority of salesmen I’ve encountered have pushed the most expensive variant of what ever I’ve looked at regardless of my “family’s vehicle needs.” or conversely pushed what ever was on “the must sell” list for the day.

      • 0 avatar
        Add Lightness

        Sometimes when I’m surfing YouTube I get sick of FCA ads from the local hillbilly motors popping up and start applying for test drives.
        After several back and forths where I specifically ask for something sporty and frugal, I go over there and they have a shiny ecodiesel pickup waiting for me. These sales associates are usually morons who believe they can sell a 2 pedal 4,500 pound truck as sporty. Unfortunately, too many of their customers drink the pickup truck coolaid and they stay in business.

      • 0 avatar
        Frédéric-Alexandre Decelles

        I recommend that you look at other places to shop. Proper qualification is one of our most important condition to KEEP our jobs as salespeople.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    A car salesman that doesn’t know much about the vehicle s/he is selling, and tries to push the customer into a more profitable vehicle? I’ve never heard of such things, but no wonder electric car sales are so low. I propose a new law that forces every salesperson to give an EV sales pitch to every customer that walks in the showroom door. The customer may say they want a Silverado or a Z-28 Camaro, but they will almost certainly change their minds if the wonderful features of the Bolt are properly demonstrated.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I know you’re joking, but salespeople also don’t want to tell TTAEVs (the truth about electric vehicles), for fear of putting off the customer.

      Lie #1 is that your driving radius can equal EPA range divided by 2.

      Other omissions include:
      – cold weather can reduce range by 40-60%
      – all batteries degrade; some more, some less
      – not everyone qualifies for the tax subsidy, if the dealer isn’t simply deducting it from the price.
      – non-Tesla resale value is terrible (see degradation comment above)
      – you may become the favored office driver at lunchtime, since your car runs for ‘free’
      – your local garage may not understand how to pull your car into the shop to change its tires.

      • 0 avatar
        Frédéric-Alexandre Decelles

        The customer is also brainwashed into their Electric belief systems.

        Tesla’s have issues as well and I usually get rebuffed. I used to be the same 6 years ago with my IPAD and MAC.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Don’t give California any ideas.

  • avatar
    kwong

    Like most other things, the consumer needs to education themselves about the product and the internet/forums provide a wealth of information and peer-reviewed experiences. Sadly, sales jobs like what you find at car dealerships and other retail stores do not provide much education about the product and focus more on persuasion to purchase. Most of do not see the value provided in these positions and would rather work around such people. It’s a shame, because these eliminates a lot of low to decent wage jobs, but if the jobs don’t provide any value then they are parasitic jobs that just cost both the business and consumer money.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    Back in 2013 I knew more about the Volt than anyone at the dealership where I bought mine. I have to say the guy doing the delivery process thing obviously had been trained and did his job right.

    Then along the 4 years of ownership experience I’ve come across service writers and technicians who were very knowledgeable about the car and ‘got it’ and also came across folks in service who could not tell the difference between a 12V AGM and a 16.5kWh 300V Li battery if their lives depended on it.

    Obviously the guys and gals that ‘get it’ are the ones who probably get excited about seeing an LS7 or a Cruze Diesel perhaps a Colorado Diesel every now and then into their service bay. The other ones may as well be working at the local paint or pet store selling paint, dog food or whatever: it’s a job, they don’t really care and no one will get hurt if not many questions are asked.

    Driving a simple EV is much, much simpler than driving a DOHC 24V twin turbo intercooled AWD E85 flex fuel whatever: You plug it in, you drive, you plug it in and you drive some more. There’s not much to think about, not much goes wrong and if you can navigate your cell phone to your google drive or icloud documents you can navigate 99.99% of all the interface found on current EV’s.

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      You make it sound like one needs engineering expertise to drive a gasoline-powered car. This might melt your hair but driving an ICE car is just as you described above except that you fill it up; you drive it; you fill it up again; then you drive it some more. The fill-ups take a lot less time, mind you. And the range is barely affected by the weather. And one can go anywhere one wants to go: camping/hunting/waterskiing with a boat that one towed to the lake/glamping with a stupendous fifth-wheel that contains a Jeep/etc. Oh, and spare gasoline can be brought along as a range-extender. These EVs, which are a minuscule percentage of the vehicle sales, are for a certain person’s life – one that involves more fancy coffees in a neato shopping district and poodle walks at the local Smelly Dog Park than mine does.

  • avatar
    sgtjmack

    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…

  • avatar
    sgtjmack

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      Frédéric-Alexandre Decelles

      You give the truth and you get customers going to the next store and buying with somebody that will repeat the lies that they believe.

      People who buy electric cars really believe.. Like alien cult abductees

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “…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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