Tesla insists the only way to sell an EV is direct to the public. Its stores are just there so people can come in, touch the cars, ask questions, and arrange for test drives. Its stores are modeled directly on Apple stores, where well informed sales staff help people select products that fit their needs.
Elon Musk insists that conventional auto dealers do a lousy job of selling electric cars. Their staff is often poorly trained. They have little inventory. Worst of all, they have little interest in selling an EV when there are fat profits to be made from selling gargantuan gas-powered vehicles.
A new report from the Sierra Club agrees. The Club sent a small army of volunteers into the field to shop for an electric car. It limited its efforts to California and the other 9 states that have adopted the zero emissions regulations promulgated by the California Air Resources Board. In all, 308 dealers were visited to gather data for the survey.
The results bear out Musk’s claims. Outside of California, many dealers had no EV models in stock, or if they did, the cars were not sufficiently charged to permit customers to test drive one. Hello?! Why not just put a flashing neon sign up in the showroom that says “CAUTION! Range Anxiety Ahead!” whenever a customer asks about an electric car?
Here is a sampling of the tales told to customers. From a woman in Maine who called a Ford dealer to ask about an EV: “I called the dealership and was told that they weren’t certified to sell EVs and that their sales department wasn’t equipped to handle them.” Here’s a line many Gas2 readers have heard: “There were only two EVs on the lot, and neither were charged with sufficient power for a test drive,” says a customer from California.
Finally, there was this egregious example of dealer malfeasance, from a volunteer who visited a dealer in Connecticut: “I couldn’t do a test drive because the key was lost. I was encouraged to purchase a non-electric vehicle instead.” Keep in mind this is the same state where a powerful dealer lobby with lots of cash to lavish on pliant politicians has beaten back several attempts to allow Tesla to sell directly to customers. Too bad the dealers don’t put some of that excess cash to work training their sales force how to sell electric cars effectively.
Overall, the survey found that only Tesla got high marks from the volunteers. BMW and Chevrolet were not far behind. That’s a bit surprising because our readers have complained long and loud about Chevy dealers (see comments section. Volvo, which is pushing plug-in hybrids hard — well, if it is pushing anything — got the worst rating of all.
The full survey results are available online, but they make for rather depressing reading. It’s as if traditional dealers are begging Tesla to steal their business. Tesla, for its part, will be only too glad to oblige these clueless and rapacious weasels.
Source and graph: Sierra Club
→ Related: “50 Tips For Slowing The Electric Car Revolution“