North American auto dealerships are emerging as one of the big bottlenecks to getting more electric vehicles out on the road faster, according to a report last week by Clean Energy Canada and a mystery shopper survey conducted in the United States by Ipsos RDA.
“This country is lagging on the government policies that elsewhere are helping spur consumers to adopt the new technology, despite reservations about everything from price to reliability to the distance they can travel on a single charge,” The Canadian Press states, citing the CEC report. And dealerships are a big part of the problem.
Out of the 97 EV models available world-wide, only 27 are sold in Canada, “and most dealers don’t even have a single model onsite so people can test drive it,” CP notes, citing CEC Policy Director Dan Woynillowicz. “The waiting list to get a Chevy Bolt, the most popular electric vehicle sold in Canada, is about eight months.”
That’s a problem if Canada plans to scale up EV sales to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve urban air quality, and tap into a technology and business boom that is on the verge of sweeping the world. “The only way we will get to a point where an electric car is an equivalent or cheaper price than a gas car is if we can achieve a certain scale of production,” Woynillowicz said. “And to achieve that production, we need to do more to make it easier for consumers to choose electric vehicles.”
Canada is one of only two G7 countries without a federal electric vehicle rebate, and only about 1% of new cars sold in the country are currently EVs. Transport Minister Marc Garneau is expected to unveil a ZEV strategy next year.
[Clean Energy Canada, Équiterre, Environmental Defence Canada, The Atmospheric Fund, and Simon Fraser University’s START research team launched a new campaign earlier this year, EVchoice.ca, to clear the barriers to electric vehicle adoption in Canada. Click here for details.]
In the U.S., where plug-in hybrid electric sales approached 174,000 vehicles last month, Greentech Media is still asking how much higher that volume would have been if dealerships had shown more interest in making the sale. For its mystery shopper report, Ipsos RDA sent staff to 141 dealerships in the country’s 10 largest EV markets. “Save for Tesla—whose sales staff ‘exude a passion for electric vehicles and are equipped with the information needed to help consumers make informed choices’—the surveyed dealerships received less than glowing marks.”
The study documented “a litany of issues at traditional brand dealers,” Greentech notes. “Mystery shoppers largely encountered a ‘passive’ process. Dealerships hadn’t customized the sales process for EVs. Electric cars often weren’t available on the lot to view or to test drive. EV ownership information, via sales staff or marketing materials, both in-store and online, was lacking.”
“This lack of support for the EV shopper lessens the likelihood that they will make the decision to go electric,” said Ipsos RDA Vice President of Research Todd Markusic. “It is surprising that consumers often were not offered an EV test drive, a key experience that showcases the uniqueness of its performance benefits. Most of the time the consumer had to request one.”
“The biggest takeaway was that there as just a lot of inconsistency,” Senior Vice President Mike VanNieuwkuyk told Greentech. “There aren’t standards or processes that are implemented and communicated across the brand.”
As a result, “from one dealership to the next, even within the same brand family, one salesperson might be knowledgeable and eager to help shoppers find the right EV, while the next might be woefully unprepared to educate customers about plug-in cars,” notes reporter Jason Gerdes. “Worse, pushed outside their comfort zone, sales staff regularly reverted back to what they know: selling conventional gasoline cars. With on-the-lot EV inventory scarce, and salespeople reluctant to search for or order an EV, mystery shoppers were often steered toward a hybrid or a traditional gasoline vehicle.”