Manufacturers Partner With Dealers to Sell EVs

As new electric models are released, the dealer-manufacturer partnership gains importance.

Alysha Webb, Contributor

June 7, 2024

3 Min Read
The effectiveness of the partnership shows in monthly sales at some dealerships.Getty Images

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part report on how manufacturers' relationships with dealers boost EV sales.

Demand for battery-electric vehicles seems to be cooling, but manufacturers are still bringing new models to market. Meanwhile, as the EV customer becomes more mainstream, dealerships must work harder to convince consumers going fully electric is the right move for them.

Manufacturers are important partners in that effort, and they are coordinating more with dealers to boost EV adoption, according to recent survey results and dealers themselves. But there are areas where manufacturers can help more.

Kia “has historically done a really good job of being a partner,” Matthew Phillips, dealer principal at Car Pros Automotive Group tells WardsAuto. Car Pros has three Kia franchises in California and two in Washington state.

Kia made “the dealer’s path to electrification pretty easy” by not requiring an enormous upfront investment in charging infrastructure, Phillips says.

It also “really helped to foster understanding of both the EV and the EV customer,” and it continues to do so, he says.

For example, before the recent launch of the Kia EV9 3-row crossover SUV, the automaker held a training seminar for all salespeople, showing them how the new EV compared to other models and who the customer for the EV9 was likely to be, Phillips says.

“The more we can understand the customer, the more we can understand if an EV is right for you,” he says.

That kind of education is key for franchised dealers to maintain their edge over direct-to-consumer competitors, Phillips says.

Early on, when EV buyers were early adopters, Kia researched consumers’ concerns such as charging, Eric Watson, vice president of sales operations at Kia Motors America, tells WardsAuto.

Then, Kia “made (dealer) requirements to establish charging infrastructure very easy and cost-effective,” Watson says. Kia also provided training for dealerships and helped them acquire special tools for servicing EVs.

As EV buyers move from early adopters to more mainstream consumers, Kia is refining its strategy, asking dealers to spend more time educating consumers about EVs’ uses, Watson says.

Sometimes, an EV may not be right for a buyer. Kia advises dealers to back off in those cases.

“We let one dealer know they couldn’t sell an EV to a customer without ensuring they had access to charging,” Watson says.

Lessons Learned Improve OEM Strategies

Some manufacturers are using lessons learned from early EV models to better support dealers as new models come out.

When the Chevy Bolt EV debuted in 2017, it was marketed to a specific group of early adopters, and sales were low volume, says Joe Jackson, general sales manager at Bowman Chevrolet in Clarkston, MI.

At the time, he says a lot of customer feedback was charging-related.

GM took that to heart. When the redesigned Bolt came to market in 2022, Chevrolet included an offer of free home charging installation.

“The home charging promotion was a great response to consumers being skeptical,” Jackson says.

With its recent EV launches, including the Chevy Blazer EV, General Motors has focused more advertising on a larger market segment, Jackson says. “It is targeted more at families,” he says.

That shows in monthly sales, say some dealers. Bowman Chevrolet sold 20 Blazer EVs within the first three weeks of May. With the Bolt, it averaged only 10 to 15 sales monthly, Jackson says.

Bowman Chevrolet is the top electric Chevrolet dealer in Michigan, and all its salespeople have gone through EV sales training provided by General Motors, says Rhonda Jensen, the dealership’s general manager. That includes online training and monthly in-person visits from a GM trainer, she says.

Editors’ note: Watch for Part 2 of this report on Monday, June 10.


About the Author(s)

Alysha Webb


Based in Los Angeles, Alysha Webb has written about myriad aspects of the automotive industry for more than than two decades, including automotive retail, manufacturing, suppliers, and electric vehicles. She began her automotive journalism career in China and wrote reports for Wards Intelligence on China's electric vehicle future and China's autonomous vehicle future. 

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