New York Times: Car dealers holding back EV sales

Prius Plug-In (Charged EVs)

Car dealers are a conservative lot, and many have shown themselves to be highly skeptical about EVs. This topic, which the EV press has been discussing for some time (including a feature article in the June/July 2014 issue of Charged), has now broken through to the mainstream press, as the New York Times reports that car dealers “are showing little enthusiasm for putting consumers into electric cars.”

Would-be EV buyers told the Times that dealers try to talk them into legacy gas cars instead, and that salespeople often know little about how EVs work.

Eric Cahill, who wrote a dissertation on EV sales for the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, found that retailers are a “bottleneck,” and “may have very good reasons for steering a potential buyer away from an EV.”

According to some industry insiders, those reasons include the greater amount of time required to explain a new technology to buyers, and the fact that EVs need less maintenance, cutting into dealers’ biggest source of profits.

Some EV shoppers feel as if they’re the ones doing the selling. Utahan Chelsea Dell told the Times that a local Chevrolet dealer did everything to dissuade her from the used Volt she wanted. “I was ready to pull the trigger, and they were trying to muscle me into a Chevy Sonic,” said Ms. Dell. “The thing I was baffled at was that the Volt was a lot more expensive.”

Charge Across Town, a California nonprofit, organizes events to introduce consumers to dealers, but has had trouble getting dealers to show up. At one event, Kyle Gray, a BMW salesman, said he was personally enthusiastic about EVs, but listed several reasons that dealers may not be: Salespeople who have spent years understanding combustion cars don’t have time to learn about a technology that represents a fraction of overall sales, and the sales process takes more time because the technology is new, cutting into commissions.

A salesperson “can sell two gas burners in less than it takes to sell a Leaf,” Marc Deutsch, Nissan’s Business Development Manager for EVs, told the Times. “There’s nothing much to go wrong [with an EV]. There’s no transmission to go bad.”

Jared Allen, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), said that EVs have not been proven to require less maintenance, but acknowledged that service was crucial to dealer profits. According to NADA, dealers on average make three times as much profit from service as they do from new car sales.

Robert Kast, who leased a VW e-Golf from a local dealer, told the Times that the salesman offered him a $15-per-month maintenance package that included oil changes, belt repair and water pumps. “I knew a whole lot more about the car than anyone in the building,” said Kast.

 

Source: New York Times