Are Car Dealers Even Ready To Sell You an Electric Vehicle?

With battery prices dropping and model selection increasing, it’s clear that EVs are becoming increasingly prevalent in the automotive marketplace. However, electric cars still have several obstacles left to overcome, such as a paucity of convenient charging stations. But the car dealers themselves may also be standing in the way.

Not all car dealers are prepared for electric car sales—and not all of them want to be

A multi-brand car dealer in Colma, California
A multi-brand car dealer in Colma, California | David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Car dealers can sometimes resort to downright harassment tactics in order to make a sale. So not wanting to make a sale seems at first glance incongruous. And yet, in the Sierra Club’s 2019 survey of over 900 US dealerships, it discovered 74% of them didn’t have a single electric car in stock, Autoblog reports. Plus, 44% of the dealers that did carry EVs only had one or two available.

Admittedly, there are far more internal-combustion-powered cars on sale today than electric ones. However, EVs have started out-selling manual-equipped cars, even though there are more of the latter available than the former, Car and Driver reports. So, it’s not like there aren’t buyers out there.

But it’s not just a matter of having an electric car in stock. Just like with a vehicle’s safety features, dealership employees need to stay informed. And an earlier Sierra Club survey found that often, that simply wasn’t the case, Car and Driver reports. Even regarding vital things like range, operating costs, and potential tax credits.

It also doesn’t help when car dealers inevitably mark up prices on EVs the same way they do on ICE cars like the Audi RS6 Avant. Some Ford dealers have been marking Mustang Mach-E prices up by $10,000 over sticker. And it’s because of potential markups that the first years of GMC Hummer EV sales will basically be handled by GM directly, not the dealers, The Drive reports.

And some car dealers, rather than try to change things, have seemingly walked away from trying to sell EVs. At the end of 2020, roughly 20% of Cadillac dealers split from the brand over electric car sales. And as of October 2020, “only about half” of existing GMC dealers have agreed to sell the Hummer EV, Motor1 reports.

But some dealers embrace electric cars—despite some hurdles

To be clear, not every car dealer is like this. Just as some dealers deliver a better sales experience than others, some dealers embrace EVs better. One Mach-E forum, for example, is compiling a list of dealers that aren’t doing markups, MotorTrend reports. And even in this ongoing pandemic, a handful are still seeing brisk sales, the Energy News Network reports. But that doesn’t always come easy.

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The reason why so many Cadillac dealers left the brand and took a pay-out was that GM required that they install EV-specific equipment. The cost of doing so would eat up a significant percentage of their annual sales income, Roadshow reports. And GM isn’t the only automaker with similar requirements. In a recent letter, Ford told its dealers that they’ll have to invest roughly $35,000 to be certified for its “’ next-gen’ EVs”, Motor1 reports.

Admittedly, the demands for these investments aren’t coming out of nowhere. Servicing and maintaining EVs requires specific tools and equipment along with a sufficient number of chargers. It’s really no different than buying extra air compressors for tires or jack stands. However, the problem isn’t just equipment, but training.

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In a 2019 Cox Automotive car dealer survey, one-third of the participants cited “a lack of marketing support from automakers and poor training” as reasons for poor EV sales, Automotive News reports. That’s why electric car advocacy groups like Plug In America are offering EV-specific training courses for dealers, InsideEVs reports.

What can consumers do about this?

Complicating this issue is that most automakers don’t sell directly to consumers. Some EV-only companies, such as Polestar, Tesla, and now Rivian have direct-sale facilities in many states. But in states like Michigan, which ban the practice, that’s not really an option, Roadshow reports.

A customer and a salesperson sit behind plastic COVID-19 barriers in a New Jersey Ford and Kia car dealer
A customer and a salesperson sit behind plastic COVID-19 barriers in a New Jersey Ford and Kia car dealer | Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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That being said, as electric cars have become more prevalent, gathering information on them is getting easier, Car and Driver reports. And ultimately, staying informed on EVs is the best way for consumers to avoid bad deals. Plus, if you have a choice between multiple car dealers, pick the one with the most knowledgeable and up-front staff. Because some car dealers do want to sell you an EV.

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