When It Comes To Selling An Electric Car, Chevy Gets It

UPDATE: 4/1/2016  I tweeted the complaints we received directly to GM’s CEO Mary Barra yesterday. I heard almost immediately back from GM Customer Care, who advised me that they take these complaints seriously. So far, GM gets an A for responsiveness. If you have had a negative experience with a Chevrolet dealer while shopping for a Chevy Volt, you are asked to contact Patsy G. at GM Customer Care. Her e-mail is socialmedia@gm.com. Please reference THREAD ID:8-VKHW3Q. Your input will be received in confidence. Your comments will not be shared with Gas2 (you may copy me at schanley45@gmail.com if you wish.)

After I heard from Patsy G., I got this tweet from Mary Barra personally.


UPDATE: 3/31/2016   After this story was published, frequent Gas2 reader Jim Smith posted a comment about a recent experience he had at his local Chevy dealer. You can find his comment below. Suffice to say, Chevy DOESN’T get it. Its dealers are just as stupid and clueless as they have ever been. If Chevy wants to sell electric cars, it is going to have set up a separate dealer network. People who get slapped around like Jim Smith did are going to buy somebody else’s car — probably from Tesla.

Shame on  Chevrolet for permitting this incompetence. It makes no difference how good the cars are or how advanced their technology is. If people have a bad experience at their local dealer, they will look elsewhere. I am tweeting this story directly to Mary Barra. I will let you know if she responds.


Selling an electric car is not the same as selling a convention car with an internal combustion engine. Those have been around for more than 100 years. Drivers know what to expect from them. Usually all they need to decide is how much they are going to pay and what color they want. Sales people are compensated based upon how many cars they sell each month. The traditional sales process can best be described as “Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma’am!” Then its onto the next sale.

Chevy Volt electric car

Chevrolet is leading traditional American manufacturers into the brave new world of the electric car with its Volt plug-in hybrid and its forthcoming Bolt all electric car. Last week, Green Car Reports editor in chief, John Voelcker, sat down with Darin Gesse,the man in charge of Chevy’s sales and marketing for the Volt and Bolt. Geese made it clear that when it comes to the difference between selling conventional cars and selling electrics, he gets it.

He says”our [electric car] customers don’t really watch TV.” Instead, Chevy is targeting them with ads on the Wired website, a back cover of Scientific American, and billboards where California tech industry drivers are usually stopped in traffic. Not every Chevy dealer will get to sell electric cars. Only those who have agreed to have their sales staff undergo training to become certified in electric car sales will be able to carry the cars.

Chevrolet is video taping the best sales people to train representatives at other stores. Selling a plug-in or electric car is “a discussion, not a sales process,” Gesse says. “These are not typical Chevy customers,” he notes. They come in with questions only about relatively minor details about the car after learning about it and researching the basics elsewhere. Most of them know more about the technical features of the cars than the sales people in the store do. What they don’t know is what it is like to drive one.

Gesse says, “The best way to explain the Volt is to experience it.” Chevy is experimenting with programs that bring cars to the homes of potential buyers so they can envision it in their own driveways. It’s also encouraging dealers to use Volts as loaner cars.

Satisfaction with dealers is an important part of the new sales paradigm, Gesse says. “We know they may not trust dealers. They get their product information elsewhere.” So far, 70% of Volt buyers are new to Chevrolet. The same will probably be true for Bolt buyers as well. What they tell their friends and family about their electric car buying experience will be hugely important to the company in the future. Not only does it have the Volt on sale and the Bolt coming soon, it also has the midsize car with the highest fuel economy in the new Malibu Hybrid. That car uses much of the powertrain from the Volt but without the charging port.

More than 20 years ago, General Motors tried to change the automobile sales process with its innovative Saturn sales model. Customers loved it. The other GM divisions hated it. The long knives came out in the GM board room, as the other divisions made sure Saturn was starved for money to the point where it eventually went out of business.

A few years later, General  Motors itself was bankrupt. So much for traditional business models. Now it has started down the path to reinvent itself yet again. Has the corporation learned anything from its recent travails? Based on past experience, don’t get your hopes up. Getting traditional sales people to change to a touchy feely sales approach is like trying to convince Donald Trump supporters to leave their guns at home. Chevy is talking the talk but will it walk the walk?

Photo credit: Chevrolet



Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.