Auto dealers often are overlooked in the conversation about electric vehicles (EVs). But dealerships are an important part in the fabric of the industry. While EVs still comprise a very small part of the auto business today – just an estimated 3% – recent EV legislation and market forecasts show increased market adoption is inevitable. Continued legislation to help further the change also is expected at the federal, regional and local levels.
Many dealers already have embraced the shift toward electric propulsion and have adapted. However, a large number of auto retailers aren’t ready for the change. If dealers want to remain in business, they need to start future-proofing their organizations.
Developing an EV Strategy
Maintaining a profitable business requires a lot of attention. Many dealers haven’t developed an EV strategy for this reason; they’re busy trying to keep their existing businesses afloat. But an easy, general EV strategy is enough to start.
It begins with the allocation of new EVs and making sure you’re getting enough inventory. For example, if you’re a Hyundai dealer, 20%-40% of your vehicles are going to be EVs going forward. Next, add charging stations to your dealership lot to support customers seeking to buy, sell or trade their vehicles. This can be complimentary to customers, while many dealers offer charging stations as a paid service for area consumers. Last, hire mechanics who are trained to service EVs. Gas and electric-powered mobility require two distinctly different types of mechanics, so be sure to staff correctly to offer EV repairs.
EVs may not need oil changes or transmission care, but they still need service checks, maintenance and occasional repair, as well as tires, brakes and more Dealers can augment their traditional service business by meeting EV service and maintenance needs.
Additionally, dealers and their sales team should become well-versed in federal, regional and state EV legislation in their areas. This can help them take advantage of legislation for their businesses and empower them to explain benefits to their customers. If a customer is considering a combustion-engine car and an EV, but the EV comes with a tax credit, that can result in a purchase.
All of this is necessary to keep pace with the shift in the retail auto landscape.
Navigating New EV Legislation
EV legislation can have value to dealerships beyond new-car sales. The new Climate Tax Law is a boon for dealers because it encompasses new and pre-owned EVs. It’s a paradigm shift in the way the government has regulated EVs to date. This can enable dealerships to allocate used vehicles in a way that they may not have contemplated before, particularly as demand and supply chain issues impact new EV inventory and costs. Used EVs are likely to be far more competitive and lucrative to the consumer when they see the discounts and benefits of EV legislation on the sticker price. It creates new potential opportunities for dealers.
At the regional, state and local level, dealers will need to wait and see what new legislation arises and how incentives can be used for their business. If California’s ban on new gas-powered vehicles passes, it will still take time to make it work, and other states may not take the same approach. Currently, there are no EV vans and very few EV SUVs to meet the needs of families and businesses. Catching up to this and other factors will present challenges. Keeping abreast of proposed legislation will help dealers stay ahead of the curve.
Dealers also should keep consumer demand for EVs in mind, separate from regulations. Consumers often consider electric cars out of concern about the climate, and many are exploring EVs to reduce gas costs. Monitor customer interest and behavior in addition to legislative changes and be ready to implement, expand or adjust your EV strategy as needed.
Concurrent with the shift toward EVs, consumers are increasingly buying, selling and leasing cars online. Dealers need to be selling cars online today. They’ll miss out on a customer base and ancillary business if they neglect to take advantage here. The internet also can educate consumers and enable comparison shopping in ways that are more efficient than visiting dealerships. For example, dealers can offer e-commerce tools that show consumers how EV tax benefits can help them save, pricing transparency and other specifics. This can result in sales.
E-commerce is a natural evolution for auto retail. It enables dealers to expand their business and reach while tapping into today’s consumers who seek ease and efficiency in their shopping experiences. There are platforms and tools that help dealers sell online without high overhead or marketing costs. Additionally, online retail reduces the cost of a sale and therefore raises profits for the dealership, which will be particularly important when margins start to come down as the chip shortage ends and supplies are replenished.
EV OEMs only sell online, so dealers will need to match that convenience. When dealers think about the future, they must include the internet.
Nathan Hecht (pictured, above left) is the founder and CEO of Rodo.com, an online marketplace that connects consumers and auto dealers to buy, sell and lease new and used cars.