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Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Long, Long Way to Go

On the way to work today I stopped at Lowes Home Improvement store to pick up a couple things. As I quietly rolled into a parking spot I could see a guy that was walking towards my car looking intently at it and and then making eye contact with me. After driving my MINI-E for 2 1/2 years and now the ActiveE for nearly 2 years I can immediately identify the people that are just curious about my car from the people that are not only curious, but want to ask me about it and this guy was definitely the latter.

So I hopped out of the car once I parked and looked right back at him and before he could say anything I said (as I usually do in these instances) Yep, it's all electric and it's a real BMW. With a big smile he said that's what he thought be didn't know BMW made an electric car. I then proceeded to give him the whole MINI-E and ActiveE history and how they are leading up to the i3 which will be available in a few months. So we chatted about electric cars for a bit and he then tells me a little story about his personal EV experience that occurred about 8 months ago. He was at a Nissan dealership buying an Altima and while the paperwork was being completed he walked around the sales floor and was checking out a LEAF. His salesman came over to tell him he was all ready to see the finance department so he asked the salesman about the LEAF and if they were selling. His salesman rolled his eyes and said sarcastically "Oh yeah, like hotcakes. Everybody needs a car that only lets you drive 25 or 30 miles from your house".

As much as I know this is happening I still get depressed when I hear stories like this. A little over a year ago I did a long blog post here that discussed the less than stellar marketing and poor dealership experience that has been in my opinion really hurting electric car adoption here in the US. There are enough obstacles to overcome already without getting hit with "friendly fire" like this, but regardless it's just another road block that EV's have to get past.

Tesla has talked at great length about why they don't think the dealership model will work successfully when electric cars are sold alongside gasoline or diesel powered cars. They claim it's just not possible to extoll the virtues of electric vehicles without simultaneously criticizing the rest of their product line, which just happens to generate the bulk of your profits. However Tesla is in a different position than the other OEM's. They don't currently sell any gas powered cars so it's easy for them to say you can't sell both in the same showroom. The others have no choice, it's either sell them side by side or don't sell electric vehicles at all.

Another problem is it takes a salesperson three times longer to complete a sale of an electric car than it does a conventionally powered vehicle and time is money in the sales biz. Customers that are interested in an EV are going to ask a lot of questions that the sales person just doesn't have to deal with when they sell a "regular" car. So while I completely understand why so many car salesmen seem uninterested in selling the EV that their brand makes, I don't excuse it because it's really just a matter of being lazy. If they took even a small amount of time to learn more about electric cars, and specifically the ones they sell, they could probably sell one nearly just as fast as they can a conventional car. After all it is their job to have at least a reasonable understanding of the products they sell. Not having the knowledge or information on hand is part of why it takes longer. I'm sure that manufacturers could also do a better job of preparing the sales force and providing comprehensive point-of-sale literature to help assist the sales process.

What is encouraging though is that even despite the less than stellar dealership experience that many people encounter, plug-in car sales continue to rise. In 2011 there were a little over 17,000 plug in car sales in the US. That number increased to over 52,000 in 2012 and this year we are on pace to sell over 90,000 plug-ins. I can only imagine how much higher the numbers would be if the majority of the client advisers in the dealerships were enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the plug-in cars they sell. There definitely are people that get it and do a great job selling the EV their brand offers, but I find those to be the exception more than the rule. BMW has an advantage with bringing the i cars to market a couple years after some of their competition started selling cars with plugs. They have had the chance to observe and see where others have made mistakes. Hopefully they have watched, listened and learned. I know it won't be perfect, but I at least hope the client advisers don't steer their customers away from the i3 and i8 and towards their conventionally powered offerings because there may be a bit more work involved in completing the sale. We'll find out soon enough!   :)



11 comments:

  1. I've had an easy time with my local dealers, I drove a Leaf when they first arrived in my area and had an experiance similar to looking at any other car. At my BMW dealer, everyone I talk to there about the i3 seems excited about it. My salesman calls me at least once a month just to talk and catch up on all the i3 news. It's funny, there are some people that I've talked to about electric cars expecting them to be skeptical or maybe even critical, but they turn out to be receptive.

    ,CDspeed

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    1. There certainly are good dealers and good sales personnel, I do realize that. It's just depressing when I hear people tell me stories like this. I know we'll get past it eventually as more cars come out and dealers realize the EV's aren't a passing fad and that they need to take them serious or lose market share to their competitors. The guy I talked to was genuinely interested in them but the message he got from the dealer was the LEAF is a waste of time. That's unfortunate.

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  2. I have had both good and bad experiences when shopping for my Volt. The first dealer I went to didn't know anything about the car. I can remember him saying that it was like a Prius only better. After doing some research I found a dealer that sold a lot of Volts and was recommended by others at the GM-Volt website so I went there and have been very happy with them since.

    I do hear stories like you describe though. If Tesla wins their battle to sell cars direct to customers without dealerships than the others should do the same with their EV's. Most electric car buyers that I know understand the car better than the salesman does anyway so who need them

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  3. I don't really care if the salesman likes the car or not. When I go to a dealership I know what I want and what I'm willing to pay for it. I always know more than the salesman anyway so buying an ev is no different as far as i'm concerned.

    Neil Donnelly

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  4. One thing that differentiates "luxury" brands is the sales and service that customers receive. This will certainly benefit BMW and MB as they enter the EV market as it has benefited Tesla.

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  5. Tom, I had heard BMW is going to hire i brand staff to help customers that have questions when they visit a dealer. Then when they are ready to buy a salesperson would take over. Do you know if they are going to do that? I think that might be fun to do.
    Ed B

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  6. I don't know. BMW, for all their hard work, is still a big auto company, and disconnected from the world. The way they can't communicate to Electronauts (what, twice in 2 years?), can't train their outsourced call center people, can't train their service staff, can't even maintain their server that the Remote app talks to, are all examples of how beaurocracy gets in the way. None of those things would happen at Tesla, because they're still young enough to care. BMW moves too slowly, and can't adapt as fast. Time will tell, but I think we'll all be disappointed how given the huge head start and immense engineering investment, the end experience on the i3 will likely still be pretty lousy. I really hope I'm wrong, but I doubt it.

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    1. I hear you... My BMW Remote was inoperative from 10/23 to 10/29... Just stuck overnight... (using iOS, note even sure if the Android App was ever released.) Contrasting that to how reliable OVMS has been for the Tesla Roadster (and that's user community supported, designed, and enhanced!)

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  7. Hi Tom, is there a reason why you stopped posting? Is everything OK? Just curious - enjoyed reading this blog each time a new post was up :).

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    1. Hi Luke,

      Thanks for checking in. I have been posting less here for a couple reasons. First, the ActiveE program is winding down and will soon be over. The ActiveE isn't going to be made into a production car so there isn't a "future" to write about here. However I have been very active posting on my other blog, http://bmwi3.blogspot.com/.

      The i3 is a "real" electric car, not a test car like the ActiveE and you or anyone will be able to go out and buy one in a couple months so I've been posting more there, as I'm trying to build awareness for a car that IS available to the public.

      I have also been writing for other EV sites like plugincars.com, InsideEVs.com and BMWblog.com, and more recently for Plug In America's website as I have been recently added to the Board of Directors of PIA. Here is a link to a recent blog post I did for the PIA site: http://www.pluginamerica.org/drivers-seat/cold-weather-ev-driving-tips

      So yes, this ActiveE blog will be used less and less now that the ActiveE program is winding to an end, but you can certainly read plenty of blog posts from me if you enjoy them, I'm not going away anytime soon!

      Happy Holidays,
      Tom

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  8. Tom,
    You say "The others have no choice, it's either sell them side by side or don't sell electric vehicles at all."

    But, I wonder if the ICE manufacturers would be better off either selling their EVs under a separate (but affiliated) brand, or at least having a separate all-EV dealership (or all-EV section of a dealers lot) so that their sales force could focus on explicitly touting (and deeply understanding) their EVs.

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