LAS VEGAS – A few years ago, some environmentalists claimed U.S. electric-vehicle sales were low because many car dealership salespeople were steering customers away from EVs and toward gasoline-powered vehicles the staff was more familiar with.
Dealers denied that accusation, saying they’ll sell anything that, well, sells. It was at a time when EV interest was tepid and product offerings were limited, in contrast to the steady launch of EV models that’s happening now.
Today, dealers are anxious to show they are plugged into the growing EV world.
That’s apparent at the annual National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention and expo here where several EV models are displayed. So are concourse posters featuring dealer EV testimonials.
“We believe there is a great opportunity in EV retail space,” dealer principal Mark Boniol of Mark Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep in Lake Charles, LA, says in one poster.
In another, dealer Brian Bakhtiari of the Bakhtiari Auto Group in San Jose, CA, says, “It’s time to accept that the future of our industry will be electrified.”
Convention workshops include topics such as “Marketing to an EV-Focused Future” and “Win in the EV Market.”
At the convention, NADA announces a new program, in collaboration with the Center for Sustainable Energy and Plug In America, to enhance EV education at franchised dealerships nationwide.
“We will efficiently educate dealers and help accelerate the mass-market adoption of electric vehicles in the U.S.,” says NADA President and CEO Mike Stanton. “The dealership training program leverages the strengths of each organization and will ensure dealers are more than prepared to sell and service the EV future.”
Stanton (pictured, below left) says automakers and consumers can count on strong dealer EV buy-in.
“Dealers are excited; they are all-in with EVs,” he says at J.D. Power’s annual Auto Summit held in conjunction with the NADA convention.
“OEMs say dealers are essential to delivering (EV sales) numbers down the road,” Stanton says. “Dealers will sell anything and want to keep customers coming back. Our ongoing discussions with car companies are about working together.”
Some industry people say selling EVs requires a different sales approach, one that focuses on familiarizing shoppers with EVs themselves as well as charging infrastructures and a lower cost of ownership compared with ICE vehicles.
Regarding EVs, “the time is now,” says Olabisi Boyle, vice president-product planning and mobility strategy for Hyundai Motor North America. Hyundai claims it has widest range of electrified vehicles on the market.
“We can’t make the journey without dealers,” Boyle says at the J.D. Power Auto Summit. “We’re asking people to change behavior.”
Stanton says a misperception is that EVs will require a whole new sales process.
“We need to reinforce that we’re working together” to successfully sell electrified vehicles,” he says. As far as adapting to a changing automotive industry, Stanton says, “We’ve always done it in the past.”
He says dealers so far have “conservatively” invested about $2 billion in preparing for the growing EV age.
A key factor to selling more EVs is to “make sure government incentives work in the showroom,” Stanton adds. “Make it easy, and we’ll figure it out.”
Dealership website content and messaging will take on a new look because of EVs, says Mike Manley, president and CEO of AutoNation, the country’s largest dealership change. “The way we set up websites will have to be more educational.”
Steve Finlay is a retired Wards senior editor. He can be reached at [email protected].