ElectraGirl: Secret Shopper in the UK

ElectraGirl with mask

ElectraGirl in disguise

Saturday 9th August 2014

First things first, some exciting news… I think (think – because I was driving round the roundabout at the time so couldn’t stop to be 100% sure) that I just saw a Nissan Leaf by Farrah’s Toffee Shop in Harrogate. Well that is very exciting as it is the first electric car I have seen in 4 days! And then, you’ll never guess… 2 days later I saw a Mitsubishi i-MiEV – this is so very exciting!

Anyway – Lets see what happened on my quest in North Yorkshire to find some electric cars. With my trusty side-kick by my side (where else would he be?), we’ve done some ‘Secret Shopping’, but only of the window variety!

To the Results!

In order of least happy with, to most happy with, the one thing to remember is that the very worst was still okay, certainly not perfect by any means but, we were pleasantly surprised that no one tried to cross-sell us a petrol car, no one was rude about electric cars and no one stood in our way when we said we’d keep on looking. In fact none of the salespeople were pushy at all. Very different to our US experiences.


Our first stop of the day was at Mitsubishi in Leeds.

First impressions were not good. We were already put off by the somewhat grotty dealership. Did this mean that the cars would also be rather grotty too? No need to worry, as when we asked if they had an i-MiEV, the salesman, after looking at his colleague for clarification said, “Do you mean the tiny town car that was all electric? I don’t think that they make them anymore.” Oh dear – immediate fail. I had already checked their website that said they sold them, but apparently that just means they are sellers of the i-MiEV, not that they have any.

I said, “Lets go.” I didn’t want to waste any time if they didn’t have any but the salesman tried to engage with us by all of a sudden having a memory jolt. He said, “In three years, I’ve only sold two.” Umm – okay then, but still, let’s just go.

He offered to help us find a car, to direct us to the nearest dealer but ultimately, they were too far away for this test which, is a shame as we really wanted to see the UK version of our little i-MiEV.

On the basis that they didn’t have a car and weren’t sure if it was still for sale, I can only give them ‘One Star out of Five’ – sorry.


Next up on the pre-planned route was Renault and the 2013 Renault Zöe. As we pulled into the car park we were grateful that we were in a Fiat Panda as the car parking spaces were really tiny. They had a charging unit outside so that could be a good sign. We walked inside the showroom and asked if they had a Zöe. The salesman, who barely looked up, said, “There’s one over there.”, and gestured in the vague direction of the car.

2014 Renault ZöeWell, at least they did have a car, there was one inside to look at and one outside to test drive. We wandered over to look but we were not overly impressed. The salesman finally came over and muttered something about getting the keys, he disappeared and a couple of minutes later re-appeared with the keys.

The enthusiasm of the salesman was – pretty much non-existent. “What can you tell us about electric cars?” we asked. “Er, well, it’s better than the Leaf because it makes a nice hum and it is very much like the Clio”! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

Over to my side-kick in the drivers seat: With my eyes closed the Zöe felt and drove just like a Nissan Leaf. Similar suspension, driving dynamics, the lot. That’s to say, it drove like a typical electric; smooth, quick, effortless. It didn’t wow me in any special way, I love the French styling, the interior was just a nice place to spend some time. The hum? That was an annoying whir from the pedestrian warning system at low speed. It needed a pair of wire-cutters to update it.

Back to the salesman, the product knowledge was not great. Apparently, I can charge it at home in 30 minutes (wrong), The charge port door was ‘jammed’ (locked) and when asked to list the best features, the ‘Hum’ was at the top. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

As they had cars in both the showroom and in the car park, ‘Two Stars out of Five’.


Next stop was Nissan.

As we pulled into the car park they definitely have Leaf’s as we saw two, gosh it’s all so exciting and a good sign so far.

Mini LeafWe walked into the dealer and we were greeted within the first 30 seconds by our salesman Ian. We asked if they had any Leaf’s that we could look at and were told yes. While the salesperson located the keys to the Leaf we looked at the slightly smaller version they had in the showroom. We then sat down with Ian and listened to him telling us about the Leaf and charging. He didn’t try to sell us a petrol car instead, quite the opposite – he praised the Leaf and thought they were great (he doesn’t actually drive one, but two of his colleagues do). He did a really good job of trying to sell one to us and laid out everything from charging to accessories available for the Leaf. His product knowledge was good but for some confusion over battery capacity loss. Each lozenge on the battery meter represents one cell in the battery (wrong) and they can be replaced to restore the battery to new (nope, sadly). Long distance driving is possible and getting easier but, you have to plan your route (yay) otherwise, for day to day driving it’s perfect. You have to get the 6.6kW charger to be able to use the fast charger (not quite right) but it’s worth it. (tick)

It was quite difficult to sit there and pretend we didn’t know much about Electric Cars but it was interesting to hear what people have to say.

He was keen to take us on a test drive to really experience what was great about electric cars. I have to say that his keenness was impressive. We didn’t drive one as my side kick has already driven one before and we were keen to check out the e-up! Oh, and no you cannot have my phone number – Ian seemed bothered that he wouldn’t be able to call us and bother us!!

For enthusiasm and for generally being ‘Go Electric!’ ‘Four Stars out of Five’.


Next on the trail – The 2014 VW e-up!

2014 VW e-up!Like the Renault Zöe, it is a Europe only car, there’s no US equivalent – that’s a shame. The salesman, Richard, met us enthusiastically and showed us around the car. His product knowledge was fair but he was the first to admit that he wasn’t an expert on the e-up! Notable errors were not knowing that the e-up! does, in fact, support DC Fast charging and that it does have regen. To be fair he did apologise for not knowing these things. What he lacked in product knowledge he made up for in genuine enthusiasm for the electric idea.

Over to my side-kick who is in the drivers seat: The e-up! is a small car. For my American chums, I have to stress that you _must_ _not_ prejudice the e-up! based on its size! Of all the small cars I’ve ever driven, the e-up! does ‘big car’ ride and feel the best. It was surreal how much the car felt like an executive sports car – solid, chunky, giving that ‘hewn-from-granite’ feel. Think, ‘best ever Golf GTI’.
The performance was peppy if not GTI like but, the driving dynamics were superb, zero-regen in ‘D’, loads of regen in ‘B’ and a surprise motor powered hill-assist at the lights. Frankly, I’d love one.

For enthusiasm and for generally being ‘Go Electric!’ ‘Four Stars out of Five’.


Last but not least on the route – BMW and the i3.

Stratstone BMWI often wonder just how much BMW cares about electric cars. I know that they talk a good talk and insist that the ‘i’ brand is all about electric, even though they have more plug-in-hybrids in the range than true EVs. However, today they changed my perception completely. BMW is definitely standing behind its ‘i’ brand. How do I know? Simple – product knowledge.

We were greeted as we walked through the door and met by product specialist Sam Lancaster by the i3 and i8 on display. It was like talking to a fellow EV enthusiast, every detail understood, all the numbers plus, all the important stuff like how great they are to drive, how quick they are and even where the parts are sourced so, I’ve no fear of having my friends think my car is anything but as ecologically sound as it could be. Nothing was overblown like the range, or the pluses and minuses of the ReX, just explained. He even covered the BMW loaner program and how that worked.

The score: ‘Six Stars out of Five’ for making me miss my i3 back home.

How do the dealers in England compare to New Jersey, USA?

The most obvious difference is that they support and care about electric cars. Not one tried to persuade me to look at other cars, even when I hinted that I might not be sure that an electric car was for me. The other big difference was that everyone was happy to let me walk out with nothing more than information. It was all a ‘soft-sell’. Only BMW in New Jersey matched the experience 100%, right down to the ambience of the showroom and the knowledgeable sales person.

The only tricky thing left is, how to persuade BMW to lend me an i3 for a few days so I can drive all around North Yorkshire showing my friends and family how great these cars really are? After reading my blog on how I ended up with an i3 they’d love to see the real thing. Excuse me while I make a quick phone call…

BMW i3 Ready for pickup

I miss my i3 back home


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  • CDspeed

    “even though they have more plug-in-hybrids in the range than true EVs”, thank you. Some people are so sold by the term “range extender” I thought I was the only one that noticed that 2 out of 3 “i” cars from BMW burned petrol. Hopefully BMW’s meeting with Tesla will mean the next car from BMWi will drop the REx altogether.

  • Surya

    Interesting overview. My experiences are a bit differentn- One Renault dealer was not very informed but acted like he was, telling me a lot of BS (only 30% of the battery is actually used!). He was pushing more than I liked.n- The other Renault dealer was very, very informed but didn’t know every minor detail. He wasn’t pushing at alln- I went to a third Renault dealer to check the color they had on their ZOE. I went in and looked at the car for over 5 minutes but despite no other customers being there, no one approached me. How can you sell a car when you don’t even talk to your potential customers?nn- The Nissan dealer used the Leaf himself and was very well informed. He wasn’t pushing at all.nn- The BMW dealer was reasonably informed but he got some important things wrong and tried selling the car by saying the Leaf and Zoe are not real electric cars (of putting) and was quite pushy.n- One guy at the Citroen dealer (where I for maintenance on my old gasser, I just asked some info, I was clearly not going to buy) was dismissive of EVs saying the batteries are a huge problem, an other guy was very positive about them and asked me to come by and show my ZOE as soon as I had it.nnnSo it differs a lot from dealership to dealership.nnnAlso, you might have seen a Mitsubitshi i and not an i-MiEV, I think the gas version is also on sale in the UK. When I was there I saw two, one of which at least seemed to have an exhaust.

  • martinwinlow

    Hi – Lovely article, nicely written. I shall look out for more! I agree entirely about Mitsu. I have an i-Miev, but it’s a re-badged one by Peugeot (called an ‘iOn’). Citroen did the same deal (C-Zero). Basically exactly the same as the i-Miev but it has different (simpler) ‘gear’ options and some other minor trim differences. I’ve had it since Jan 2014 and love it. I bought it used from a dealer in the SW of England where they are much more common than, probably, anywhere else in the UK. It cost u00a39k (u00a328k new!), is a 2011 version and had barely 2k miles on it. There are lots more going if anyone is interested. Driving it back using ecotricity’s rapid chargers along the M5 and M4 was… interesting – they have a few reliability issues to sort out (perhaps they have been by now). nnnBut Mitsu really does not appear to be interested in EVs any more which is a shame as the engineering on the i is really excellent, IMO. I especially like the totally seamless accelerator peddle action – from really rather shockingly good acceleration to finely adjustable, and quite powerful, regen, virtually to a stop. My only niggles are, the creep feature, which I hate (I usually knock the transmission into neutral as I get close to 2-3mph), the lack of time-able charge built in and not being able to pre-condition the car when connected to the mains.nnnI also agree with your sum up of Renault (they have *really* got to offer a battery-inclusive option on all their EVs). Nissan has changed its attitude to the LEAF dramatically in the last year. Before this they were as ambivalent as any other ICEV retailer was/is. I was in one of the dealers in Waltham Cross (Essex) last week and got a totally different reaction. Half the staff drive them (apparently) and the salesman was quite knowledgeable and very keen. Nice to see. I’m not a BMW fan so I won’t be crossing their threshold any time soon, but good to hear they are standing behind their product – even if they are still mostly ICEVs, really!nnnAnyway, good luck with your EV-ing and you might see me in a Model S next year if my plans come to fruition – Mrs W has already bagsied the iOn to replace her ageing Smart for2. So we will be a fully EV(olv)ed household, including the Vectrix and e-bike! MW

    • Electra Girl

      Congrats on heading to all EV, I can thoroughly recommend it. It’s a shame about the lack of pre-conditioning on the Peugeot though have you considered wiring a time clock into the socket that you use for charging? We did that with our MINI E.nnInterestingly, since writing the article, only VW and Nissan have followed up – which is telling.