A comprehensive study, EV Readiness Index 2022, reaffirms what dealers and vehicle manufacturers are facing: a significant shortfall in the U.S. between the need for electric-vehicle charging availability and the number of states making any headway at all in public charging.
The study by LeasePlan also notes there are promising initiatives to add to public charging stations, but they will take years to fully implement. Dealers, faced with reinventing themselves in the transition to an EV market, can take this as an opportunity to become the educational and supply source for charging options and for everything that supports a complete, top-notch EV customer experience.
Another way to think about this: While dealers are reinventing themselves, their customers are doing the same. They need to be comfortable about moving to EVs and will like the convenience of their dealer helping them make accessory choices. Making a full line of accessories available gives dealers a valuable start in building their EV customer base. Portable chargers, for example, will help fill the gap in the public-charging shortfall and give customers more confidence in switching to EVs.
Dealers also can develop their EV customer base by providing information about EVs and sustainability in general and be there to answer questions or give advice on making EV choices.
Here are a few considerations in becoming a successful EV dealership:
- Differentiation. Some vehicle owners may remain loyal to their brand, eventually switching to an electric Ford F-150, for example. However, with new brands and models entering the market, competition will drive dealers to look for ways to differentiate themselves. Portable charging can be one differentiator. Tesla recently announced it is no longer routinely bundling chargers with its models. Other manufacturers are offering inexpensive chargers that have limited utility and are not as rugged as needed for different weather or road conditions. Dealers can make information about portable – as well as public charging – a core skill. By doing so, they can become a trusted source for customers navigating through the unfamiliar world of EVs.
- Education. Another facet of differentiation is the dealer’s ability to be well-educated on all key issues of owning an EV, including charging, batteries and total cost of ownership (TCO). A report by McKinsey notes “Many dealerships are woefully underprepared to meet the growing number of consumers considering an electric car.” The report surveyed the U.S., China and Germany and assessed sales readiness in regard to test drives, in-store experience, the sales process, expertise with regard to TCO, battery and charging. Battery and TCO know-how scored particularly low. Improving dealer knowledge and sharing that knowledge with customers will be a powerful asset in attracting and retaining EV buyers.
- Millennial Marketing. According to J.D. Power, millennials surpassed all other demographics in new-car purchases in 2020, totaling 32% of all sales. Millennials and Gen Z are the EV buyers that will drive future market growth. They want authenticity and convenience and are focused on sustainability. They also love social media and gadgets with a purpose. What has been documented is millennials dislike traditional selling models and prefer to buy vehicles online. Dealers need to create a compelling EV-centric online presence to retain this demographic as a customer. Since EV buying is still in the early stages, a dealer-branded app giving information on EV ownership and useful tips, in sync with a purchasing platform, can be another effective means of developing customer engagement.
- Superior Service. Dealers already are well aware the legacy service model of parts sales and oil changes will be fading out over the next decade. As McKinsey notes, dealers need a two-pronged approach to a new service model. They can work with new OEMs and digital dealerships to provide service, thereby keeping market cost of entry down for disruptors, while at the same time building up the service business by using assets owned by the dealership. Another aspect of a new service model can be working with vendors who supply portable chargers, offering those chargers for sale and working with local contractors to provide installation service. Supplying customers with this type of end-to-end model is the type of convenience buyers will expect.
- In-Store Experience. Apart from a steep learning curve for both dealerships and buyers, it’s important to remember making an EV sale a pleasurable, engaging experience is still key to retaining customers. While more vehicle buying is now online, particularly in the millennial/Gen Z demographic, customers of all ages will drop into a store. Dealerships need to be well versed in EVs, service and accessory options and impart the confidence new EV buyers want. Offering discounts to build business, giving the first 100 customers who respond to a promotion a special item, or offering EV workshops – in person and streamed – are ways to strengthen a connection with the customer.
- Redefining the Future. Into the next decade gasoline-powered vehicles will share the road with EVs. Over time, EVs will become the dominant (and eventually sole) option for vehicles. Auto dealers have a big job ahead of them, but it can be done. Educating dealer staff now on servicing EVs will provide the foundation for building a future in which a dealership is the trusted source for EV sales, service and charging.
Michael Boehm (pictured, left) is general manager of Juice Americas, a subsidiary of Juice Technology, a provider of portable charging stations for electric vehicles.