A Few Bad Eggs or a Continuing Epidemic: How Some Dealerships Still Can’t (or Won’t) Sell Electric Cars

Think back four years, and the majority of car dealerships around the world had little or no interest in electric, plug-in hybrid, or even hybrid vehicles. Walk into a dealership back then to try and buy a greener car, and you’d be more likely to find yourself being upsold on a larger, less efficient model with a roaring V8 than you would be finding a dealer who really wanted to help you on your quest to use less oil.

Tesla stores: the way electric cars should be sold?

Tesla stores: the way electric cars should be sold?

Thankfully, a lot has changed in the past four years, with a far larger choice of hybrid and plug-in cars to choose from and more and more dealerships embracing environmentally-conscious vehicles. And to be fair, some must be doing a good job, with more than 115,800 plug-in vehicles sold in the U.S. alone last year.

But if we were writing the plug-in sales report card for the auto dealer industry right now, two recent stories that have come to our attention mean that we’d be writing “Must try harder” right about now.

Despite rising sales and a market share that’s expanding far quicker than the hybrid market of the early noughties, it seems some auto dealers still can’t bring themselves to sell you a plug-in car. Or rather, they won’t.

Tesla:light. Chevy: night.

Our first story comes from Brooke Crothers, a contributor with Forbeswho recently took a trip with his father to two dealerships in the town of Devon, PA.  One, a combined Tesla store and service centre. The other, a Chevy dealership. Interested to see what the two sales experiences would be like, he visited one after another with his father to compare and contrast the two.

The difference was like night and day.

Are dealerships switched on to selling electric cars, or still reluctant and misinformed?

Are dealerships switched on to selling electric cars, or still reluctant and misinformed?

“Tesla offers a glimpse of the future while the Chevy dealer is more like a drive down memory lane,” he wrote.

As our friends at GreenCarReports note, Crothers’ original article is required reading, but we’ll paraphrase it for you here. The Tesla store — dedicated not only to selling the world’s fastest production electric sedan but also to revolutionise the car buying experience — was clean, tidy, and airy. The epitome of Tesla’s sales experience, even the service area could have beaten a conventional auto dealer showroom.

“I buttonholed a guy in service,” he wrote.”He sounded more like an engineer than a service guy. He described maintenance like he was fine tuning a corporate server, not a car.”

The dealership for Chevy was completely different. As a volt owner himself, Crothers already knew plenty about the car, but arrived to find a Chevy dealer stocked to the brim with pickup trucks, a few sedans and a Corvette. With the pickup trucks front and centre and the Corvette serving as eye candy, a lone Chevy Volt was hidden out of sight in the corner of the lot, without any sales literature or even a show model within the showroom itself.

While the salesman argued that the outgoing Volt isn’t getting any marketing right now thanks to the upcoming 2016 model year car, Crothers says this isn’t the first Chevy dealer he’s seen set up that way.

To keep things fair however, we should note that Crothers points out his own Chevy dealership — one in Los Angeles, California — is the antithesis of his Pennsylvania experience. There, Volts adorn the lot and sales volumes are high. But his local dealership also happens to be one of the biggest Volt dealers in the U.S., so comparisons aren’t exactly fair.

The passive aggressive letter

But perhaps the most shocking sales practice we’ve seen to date comes from Phil Curtin, an Internet sales manager at a Canadian Kia dealership just north of the border in Vancouver, who — as InsideEVs explained last week — wrote a disparaging reply criticising a potential customer who had enquired about buying Kia’s all-electric Soul EV.

One Canadian customer was told by email not to bother with a Kia Soul EV by a salesman.

One Canadian customer was told by email not to bother with a Kia Soul EV by a salesman.

The buyer, who had contacted the dealership specifically to ask about the Kia Soul EV, was told by Curtin that he shouldn’t be interested in the Soul EV or any other electric car, saying that the car was “good neither for your pocketbook, nor the environment.”

Obviously, this particular sales person hadn’t heard of the age-old mantra of customer service which says the customer is always right. In fact, the email is so unbelievable that you can see it below.

Thank you for your interest in the Soul EV.

Are you interested because you think an EV will save you money, or because you believe it will be good for the environment? Because realistically, it will do neither. The Carbon footprint of making the electric battery is equivalent to driving the gas powered luxury Soul for 5 years, and the extra 8-10000 $ you will pay for an EV, would pay for gas in a 2.0 l GDI four cylinder for 7 years.

So again, whatever your buying motivation, savings or environment, at this point in time, the EV is a social / political statement and is good neither for your pocketbook, nor the environment.

Best Regards,

Phil Curtin
Internet Sales Manager
Kia of Vancouver

After receiving the email, the prospective customer, rightly frustrated by the rude and inconsiderate response, posted his email on a popular EV-owners forum, where it received lots of attention and eventually caused the dealership to write the following half-hearted-apology.


My name is Jason and I am one of the Sales Managers here at Kia Vancouver. That email your friend received is not a good sounding tone.

I do apologize to your friend that such an email was sent in the first place. If you could pass this on, that would be great.

There is some truth to the email though. A top of the line Kia Soul SX-L (gasoline powered) is about $30000, where as an EV soul will run north of $40000. However, the government just released an EV incentive as of today so it may help lower the cost to consumers to get into EV powered vehicles.

It is debatable how “environmental friendly” EV cars really are. Nickel is mined by big diesel powered machinery to gather materials to build batteries. Cars are shipped around the world using big ships running on fossil fuels. However, there is no point getting into this as it boils down to perspective with strong points on both ends.

The one thing I do like to ask potential EV customers myself is whether they believe that driving an EV will save them money in the long term. This is not true right now because the cost of an EV car compared to its gasoline counterpart is so much more expensive at the point of sale. Taking the Soul for example, a $10000 price difference does indeed buy you a lot of gas (e.g., $2000 per year on gas will get you 5 years of driving). Then we can take into consideration that gasoline cars are known and likely more reliable, regardless of the brand.

However, when it boils down to buying a car. It should only be the buyer’s views that matter. We as sales people are only here to guide and give information. Unfortunately, the tone of my salesman was very very poor. The exact same thing could have been said in a much more appropriate manner with less of a tone of “you shouldn’t buy an EV because blah blah blah blah”.

Lastly, we do not carry EV souls. Only two dealers in BC have the privilege of selling them. If you have any more general questions for me George, you may email or call me anytime. Send my apologies to your friend as well.

Best Regards,

Jason Wong

Pre-Owned & Internet Sales Manager

The arguments made by Mr. Wong are ones we’ve heard before, usually from hardened gear heads than salespeople. But when they come from a dealership that represents a brand which is just about to expand its sales presence — albeit in a different country — we’re not sure quite what to say.

Of course, not all car sales people are bad. EV advocate and former LEAF salesman Paul Scott was praised for his sales and service before he retired.

Of course, not all car sales people are bad. EV advocate and former LEAF salesman Paul Scott was praised for his sales and service before he retired.

So, we’ll open it up to the floor. Are these just two (thankfully) rare occasions where poor sales advice and dealer apathy contrast a mainstream of more thoughtful, engaged plug-in sales staff? Or is this yet more proof of a massive, endemic problem that illustrates the biggest barrier to plug-in car sales isn’t the buyers but the salespeople?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below — as well as your own good (or bad) sales stories.


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  • BenBrownEA

    Sad to say par for the course. So far, only one out of 5 dealers I talked to gave any knowledgeable positive response about the electric cars on the lot. Their integrity was a little sucky too. nnnOur local Kalamazoo Mitsu dealer was open to getting me an imiev to drive and had promised another customer upon purchase their service crew could service the vehicle. Because they didn’t have an imiev on the lot, I found a better deal that had one on hand. My friend uncomfortable with them instead went to the local Nissan dealer who has been excellent with service and basic knowledge. When I went back last week to ask about servicing at the Mitsubishi dealer, I was told they don’t service imiev’s and I’d need to drive 70 miles or so to get serviced. (Really!?)

  • Martin

    I think that its down to the luck of where you live in some cases. We have had good experiences with Nissan, Mitsubishi, Renault, and BMW dealers around our old home in Hampshire, at the first one we went to for each manufacturer. However with VW we had two bad experiences including trying to tell us that the eGolf was not a good car, that EVs were just a short term product which would be obsolete and not on sale in a couple of years, and we ought to be looking at a diesel golf. However we got a positive supportive response at the third VW dealer we contacted. The worst response I got was from a Toyota dealer in Scotland who denied that they made a plug in car despite me actually arriving at the garage in my plug in Prius asking about EVs with longer range as I liked the car so much, but was disappointed at its short all electric range, and that I was hoping for much more range when I changed the car in a couple of years. When I pointed out that I already had one he suggested that it was an import from England, which was technically true it had been sourced from an English dealer before we moved back to Scotland.

  • D. Harrower

    This does not surprise me at all as there is too much of a conflict of interest at play. Mainstream OEMs sell one, maybe two, PHEV models and they cannot make an honest sales effort because they would make the rest of their lineup look bad (much higher percentage of total sales at risk).nnI can’t offer any EV buying experience since, due to my high range requirements, the Model S was the only EV that met my needs. However, several years earlier I went shopping with my mother for a Lexus hybrid. The first dealership we hit told us “No one buys those, so we don’t carry them” They didn’t even offer to bring one in for us! However, the next dealership (in another city) did a great job and we ended up buying from them.nnIn Newfoundland, where my sister lives, none of the dealerships will sell electrified vehicles at all, despite there being a dealer in every town! If you want a Volt or a Leaf, you have to get it used from a third-party company that brings them to the island and provides service for them (none of the dealerships will touch them).

  • TheFrequentPoster

    It would be good for the author to commit some journalism and find out why dealerships are reluctant to sell EVs. What’s the matter? Afraid you might be told something you’re not prepared to hear?