In an Amazon world where everything can be purchased online and delivered to your doorstep, it’s understandable if auto dealers feel threatened by an emerging new model that streamlines the vehicle purchase process and bypasses some of their traditional functions.
But Deborah Wahl, chief marketing officer for General Motors, says the automaker’s 4,100 U.S. dealers will play an important role in remaining the automaker’s face to the consumer, whether that consumer wants a fully digital, virtual transaction or a conventional experience that involves face-to-face meetings with the sales team and kicking the tires.
“The dealers view customers the same way we view customers,” Wahl says at this week’s Automotive Retail 2021 conference hosted by Reuters. “We’re developing tools to make sure it’s seamless no matter what – to serve the customer in the best way possible.”
Wahl refers to the Cadillac Live virtual showroom, where shoppers can take a one-on-one video tour of any Cadillac vehicle and ask questions of a live product specialist and learn more about the vehicle. Customers get the information they need in a convenient format, while dealers connect with prospective buyers.
“This works well for customers and dealers,” Wahl says. “And we’ve made the showroom experience more efficient, too.”
She says some 60,000 shoppers are visiting the Cadillac consumer portal each month, and even without advertising the Chevrolet site routinely draws thousands of visitors. “That’s real demand,” Wahl says.
Although the buying process may be changing, customers still need a test drive and the car can be delivered to the customer’s house, and the dealers play an important role in the entire process, including servicing the vehicle well into the future, she says.
As GM transitions to a portfolio of battery-electric vehicles, Wahl has talked about the importance of “normalizing” EVs for mainstream consumers, realizing there’s still a lot of work ahead in removing “barriers,” such as range anxiety and price, which still discourage shoppers.
“Our message is, EVs will transform driving and the ownership experience” in much the same way as the arrival of the horseless carriage more than 100 years ago, she notes.
The launch later this year of the GMC Hummer BEV pickup, she says, is deliberately intended to dazzle consumers with breathtaking acceleration, rugged good looks and the eye-popping ability to “crabwalk” diagonally.
Then comes the Chevy Silverado EV pickup, with 400 miles (644 km) of range, “and it takes away some of the barriers of concern, so people can be open to the possibilities,” Wahl says. “If you haven’t driven an EV, you should try it.”
She refers to allowing her 18-year-old son to drive her Bolt EV recently and he was hooked. “He said: ‘This is awesome. It’s got great acceleration and there’s no shift-shock. It’s an incredible driving experience.’”
Through the first quarter, Chevrolet has sold 9,025 current-generation Bolt hatchbacks, up 54% compared with like-2020, according to Wards Intelligence data. That’s a significant jump but still well behind the Tesla Model 3, with 15,764 deliveries in the first quarter.
A new ’22 Bolt EUV (electric utility vehicle that’s larger and taller than the current Bolt) arrives later this year, soon to be followed by a refreshed Bolt hatchback.
Pricing starts at $33,995 for the ’22 Bolt EUV (pictured above) and $31,995 for the hatchback, not including available state, local or utility incentives. The new hatchback is priced $5,000 lower than the ’21 Bolt EV.
GM is nudging the market forward by offering free home chargers to customers buying the new ’22 Bolts, and Wahl encourages consumers to think seriously about how a BEV would fit into their lifestyles.
“I have a carport and no garage and my house was built in 1956. I’m thinking, ‘Can I really do this?’” Wahl says. But she scheduled installation of the home charger, and the process took two hours.
“It was great, and I never have to go to a gas station again,” she says.