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.
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 Forbes, who 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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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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