Sales of electric cars were headed for a 30% increase in 2017, but the number of electric and plug-in hybrids sold last year is still a tiny slice of the market and, according to one marketing study, auto dealerships are giving potential customer an inconsistent and sometimes off-putting sales pitch.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the number of all-electric and plug-in hybrids sold in 2017 will be less than 200,000, representing a little more than 1% of the 17 million cars and light trucks that were sold in the U.S.
New and updated models introduced during the year included the Chevy Bolt EV (which advertises a 238-mile range), the Tesla Model 3, and an updated all-electric Leaf from Nissan, which got a mileage boost from 107 to 150 miles per charge, The Times said. But Tesla, with a waiting list of some 400,000 Model 3 customers, delivered just 222 of the cars by the end of the year, according to an article posted at Wired and has pushed back its production target of 5,000 vehicles per week until March.
As notable as sales figures and model upgrades, the newspaper said, was the hype about future products, including promises from a number of big manufacturers to expand their electric vehicle offerings significantly in the years ahead. The list included Volkswagen (50 all-electric models by 2025), Audi, Renault-Nissan, Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Jaguar.
A number of niche manufacturers backed by Chinese investors are readying models for the U.S. And a newly formed company called Future Mobility Corporation introduced the Byton brand, which plans to roll out a mid-sized SUV by the end of 2019.
In other words, there’s plenty on tap but limited excitement among buyers now.
Dealerships need some work
Some potential buyers worry there aren’t enough charging stations and that they’ll become stranded while on trips, a phenomenon called “range anxiety.” But part of the blame can be attributed to auto dealerships, where salespeople are sometimes less than enthusiastic about the electric vehicle future, Greentech Media said in an article.
The website cited a marketing research report by the firm Ipsos RDA, which involved sending secret shoppers to 141 dealerships in the country’s 10 biggest electric vehicle (EV) markets. While Tesla sales people understandably “exude a passion” for plug-in vehicles, the shoppers found that often wasn’t the case at more traditional dealerships.
“The EV sales process, in many instances, has not been differentiated from the traditional and, in effect, is passive,” the report said. “The availability of inventory, as well as critical EV ownership information in-store (from the sales staff or marketing materials) and online, is concerning and leaves shoppers with unanswered questions.
Sometimes electric vehicles weren’t on the lot so potential buyers could neither see nor test drive them. Sometimes the cars were there weren’t charged enough to allow people to drive them. Some sales people knew a lot about electric vehicles while others did not. Marketing material sometimes wasn’t available. When sales people didn’t know how to answer questions they might steer potential EV buyers to conventional gas-powered cares.
“With on-the-lot EV inventory scarce, and salespeople reluctant to search for or order an EV, mystery shoppers were often steered toward a hybrid or a traditional gasoline vehicle,” the GTM report said.
For all of these reasons, customers are less likely to buy an electric vehicle, a conclusion a similar study by the Sierra Club in 2016 also reached.
“Ranging from not carrying electric vehicles on the lot, to insufficiently charging them for test drives, to not featuring them prominently, to not informing customers of charging capabilities or tax incentives, it’s clear auto dealerships and automakers need to be doing much better to promote and sell electric vehicles,” Mary Lunetta, co-author of the report, said at the time.