Yesterday was an important day for me. Classic Chevrolet, in Grapevine, Texas, held the grand opening of its new EV and Hybrid Sales Center. The center was an idea I pitched to Tom Durant, President of Classic, early last year. Informally, we have been calling it “Electric Avenue,” in homage to the 1983 hit song by Eddy Grant. I’ve been playing the song a lot lately, as the date to open approached.
A couple of weeks back, a client who wanted to order a Bolt EV from me, contacted me to say he’d gone through a dealer in California, bought one and had it shipped to him in Texas. This is possibly the only Bolt EV in Texas, so I had to ask if he’d mind bringing it by the dealership to show to others wanting a Bolt. He graciously agreed to do so.
This, I thought, is exactly the centerpiece we needed for our grand opening! (more on this in a later post…)
My original idea was based on my time at Apple. I worked in an Apple Store as a Business Manager, so it occurred to me that moving someone from Windows OS to MacOS has many of the same challenges as moving someone from a gasoline-powered vehicle to an EV or hybrid. The potential customer has tons of questions, as I did before getting our first Volt, back in 2012. Answering these questions requires a salesperson who has a deep understanding of these new vehicles. As I’ve mentioned before, it takes a salesperson much longer to sell an EV and the profit margin is thin, meaning the salesperson’s commission on the sale will be small.
Longer sales cycle + lower profit margin = disinterested sales staff.
Thinking of my days at Apple, it occurred to me that the sales model for EVs has to be different than how other vehicles are sold.
The first step, in my opinion, would be to leverage technology, so the salesperson isn’t constantly repeating the same answers and anecdotes, over and over. The Chevy website has videos to view, but it seems that people are not getting the answers there. Also, some of the questions might require much more than a two minute video to answer. I also felt that sitting across a desk from customers places a barrier between salesperson and customer. Apple preached this and has been working on ways to get even the “Geniuses” (technical assistance providers in the stores) on the same side of the table as the customer. Having been involved in business sales at Apple, I knew of many apps available to help businesses, could be employed in this model.
I described a layout, similar to an Apple store, with tables and barstools, where clients and salespeople could gather to discuss EVs & hybrids. These tables would be employed as the place to get answers. As such, without personal financial information being discussed, a single salesperson could answer the questions for multiple clients simultaneously, multiplying the salesperson’s effectiveness.
It also allows current EV drivers to share their knowledge with potential EV owners. The importance of this is that the person considering the switch to electric propulsion would drop their defenses, believing the EV driver isn’t making a commission and therefore, would be more truthful than the vehicle salesperson. This is similar to the idea I pitched to my Volt salesperson for National Plug-in Day. Who better to explain EVs than an EV owner? All of us a raving fans and the enthusiasm can become contagious, as the buyer realizes how happy the EV owner is with their purchase. Of course, there will be many times when there won’t be an EV owner at the table, so the next step will be to add iPads, held in kiosk frames attached to these tables. Behind each of the televisions, will be a computer, wirelessly connected to the iPads and directly connected to the television. On the iPad, could be a list of common questions from the EV-curious. The customer, by tapping on the question they want answered, would see a short video or presentation, answering the question, displayed on the television nearest the table. When a customer enters the main room, the TVs would all be playing slideshows or videos in a loop, so they can be passive in their interaction, if that’s the style they prefer. When it becomes time to take a credit application, or have any other private conversation, there is an office (at the far end in the photo above), that would be employed. Even in that office, the client and salesperson are on the same side of the work surface, which is a countertop along two of the office walls.
Another effort that is very time-consuming for the salesperson, is the vehicle delivery. Once the buyer purchases or leases an EV or hybrid, a good salesperson will spend about forty-five minutes, to an hour, explaining how everything works. This is time the salesperson is not making money for the dealership or themselves, so this step is often hurried and not informative. My solution to this was guided by the layout of the building. At the end of the building, opposite the office, was a 16′ X 16′ room that formerly housed a car rental desk for clients dropping their vehicle off for service or the body shop. (Our dealership gives out loaner vehicles, if the customer’s vehicle is still under warranty and they made their service appointment in advance.) I decided I would use that room for the delivery portion of the sales workflow. While a customer is waiting for a salesperson to become available, waiting for a test drive or waiting to go to Finance to make the purchase, they can watch a video to be told all the things I would tell them, after the sale was complete. Some dealerships have created a position specifically for vehicle delivery, a technical person, who can help the customer learn about their new vehicle, to set up their OnStar (telematics) service as well as their Chevrolet web portal and MyChevrolet phone app. I don’t care for that idea, because I want to make sure my customers get all the information they need. The video approach helps kill waiting time, a common frustration in the car-buying experience and it also allows EV buyers to share their excitement with one another.
Another purpose for the room, would be to offer it to EV clubs and other groups wanting to learn about EVs and/or hold meetings. I have offered it to the leadership of the North Texas Electric Automobile Association, for their meetings. I look forward to hosting meetings of groups wanting to know more, without the pressure of taking up a salesperson’s time, knowing they are keeping the salesperson from making a sale. It was quite gratifying, when I saw the visitors at our grand opening, naturally gravitating to the “EV Learning Lounge,” sharing stories and enjoying the camaraderie of fellow EV fanatics.
I do not claim to have all the answers, but I do recognize many of the hurdles to EV sales. Several of my colleagues, seasoned car salespeople, have expressed doubts about my ideas and expect me to fail. This building will be a work-in-progress and a learning experience. I’m sure we’ll have to tweak things along the way, but I am determined to make the EV buying experience faster and much more fun.
In January 2017, plug-in vehicle sales were down sharply, except for one model I track, The Chevy Bolt EV. The January drop is normal, in the electric vehicle space, due to the Federal Income Tax Credit for plug-in vehicles. Buyers of these vehicles make purchases in December, in order to get the tax credit relatively quickly, when they file their taxes early in the following year. In fact, almost every single vehicle I track has shown a drop in sales in EVERY January, when compared to the previous month. The only exception goes back to January 2011, when the Nissan Leaf showed an increase in sales volume the month after it was first released. The Bolt EV has pent up demand, due to its 238 mile EV range, at a price starting at $37,495 ($29,995 after tax credit) and for the awards it has garnered. The Bolt EV is the first EV to have an electric range over 200 miles at a price below $70K. Currently (pun intended), the Bolt EV is only available to residents of California and Oregon, but unlike the Chevy Spark EV, which also has limited geographic availability, General Motors plans on making the Bolt EV available nationwide, later this year.
Here are the January 2017 sales figures, compared to the previous month:
- Chevy Volt: DOWN 56% (1,611 vs. 3,691)
- Chevy Bolt EV: UP 101% (1,162 vs. 579) *Bolt EV was not available for the entire previous month
- Nissan Leaf: DOWN 59% (772 vs. 1,899)
- Plug-in Toyota Prius: DOWN 17% (1,366 vs. 1,641)
- Tesla Model S: DOWN 85% (900 vs. 5,850) **estimated
- BMW i3: DOWN 52% (382 vs. 791)
- Ford Fusion Energi: DOWN 45% (606 vs. 1,099)
- Ford C-Max Energy: DOWN 63% (473 vs. 1,289)
In December, the average price of gasoline dropped steadily in the U.S., until the 29th, when is started to stabilize. Gas averaged $2.31 per gallon, over the month.January sales were quite a contrast to the busy December sales rush. Traffic was terribly low at my dealership. I only had four sales for the month, two of which were counted by General Motors as December sales, as they occurred on January 3rd, which marked the end of the GM month (GM never ends a month on a weekend). All four of my sales were made in the first 13 days of January. Since I had no sales after January 13th, I’m considering believing in triskaidekaphobia!
My sales, by vehicle, included one Volt, two Silverado 1500s and a Suburban. This shaved the Volt lead, over my second best selling vehicle by one unit, and as of now, Volt leads Silverado 1500 by eight units, over my career in vehicle sales.
Plug-in sales, compared to the same month a year ago, were mostly up, with the BMW i3 being the only vehicle I track that shows a decline in sales, year-over-year. The YUGE increase, in Plug-in Prius sales were due to the lack of interest in the previous generation and the introduction of the new version, in November of last year, dubbed “Prius Prime.” Looking at the top sales graph above, the purple sales curve at the very bottom, shows how poorly the previous generation Prius plug-in sold. Loyal Prius customers learned of the increased range of the Prius Prime and decided to wait or move to a different brand/model. Due to this, the percentage change in sales over the previous January looks enormous, when in fact it was the second-best, in monthly sales, last month. The Chevy Volt took top honors with a total of 1,611 units, compared to the Prius Prime’s volume of 1,366 units. Due to the poor Prius sales over most of 2015 and 2016, the increase percentage may continue to look incredibly high, until at least November 2017 (unless the Prius Prime’s sales drop precipitously, in the coming months).
- Chevy Volt: UP 62% (1,611 vs. 996)
- Chevy Bolt EV: (was not available in January 2016)
- Nissan Leaf: UP 2% (772 vs. 755)
- Plug-in Toyota Prius: UP 13,560% (1,366 vs. 10) **previous generation Prius plug-in, dying out last January
- Tesla Model S: UP 6% (900 vs. 850)
- BMW i3: DOWN 55% (382 vs. 850)
- Ford Fusion Energi: UP 4% (606 vs. 581)
- Ford C-Max Energi: UP 35% (473 vs. 350)
He got an electric lawn mower before I did.
BUT, I got a building dedicated to EV and Hybrid Vehicle sales before he did!
Back in June of last year, I was informed that Classic Chevrolet, my employer, was going to dedicate one of the dealership’s buildings to EV and Hybrid sales. Progress has been agonizingly slow for me, with electric service upgrades, trenches, design meetings, etc, but things are coming together and I should be moving into the building this month.
My previous experience at Apple, migrating people from Windows to MacOS, seems very similar to migrating people from gasoline-powered vehicles to those powered by electricity. There are many, many questions to answer and, as a result, selling a plug-in vehicle is very resource-intensive. I find myself answering the same questions over and over. My vision is to leverage technology to move some of the workload to automated information distribution. The new building will have several large screen TVs playing videos and presentations, in the background, to answer questions, without the involvement of a salesperson. That means I’ve got lots of iMovie and Keynote work ahead.
The plan requires a new kind of space for plug-in vehicle sales. I decided the days of cubicles or offices is over. Space is needed where current EV owners can talk with the EV-curious about their personal experience. That means we need a place, around which to gather. Imagine a table, instead of a salesperson’s desk. Perhaps there’s an iMac or iPad the client can use to select the question they want answered and see the answer appear on the TV. It should be a place where customers can learn about products they can use with their EV (i.e. solar panels for their home, electricity providers that give discounts for EV ownership, Level 2 chargers or inductive chargers, etc). That means we need a place which current EV owners want want to visit (like Apple product owners stopping by the Apple Store when they’re not planning on a purchase).
Here’s the update: The budget precluded replacing the acoustic tile ceiling or fluorescent lighting. The old wallpaper has been removed and the painters are priming the sheetrock today. The tile floor has been repaired, where the cubicle walls were anchored previously. An internal door has been added from the “EV Theater” to the EV/Hybrid showroom. Some graphics have been applied to the windows, but more need to be created. There’s so much to do!
Fortunately (or unfortunately), the Chevy Bolt EV won’t be arriving anytime soon, so I’ve got time to plan for that. Also, heavy December sales of Volts has Classic’s Volt inventory down to only four Volts left and they’re all LTs. Our next allocation of Volts should be released on the 22nd of this month, so I should have many more heading in, by March. In the meantime, I’ll just have to keep doing dealer trades, with dealers who haven’t figured out how to sell the Volt, to get Premiers for my clients.
News about the Chevrolet Bolt EV’s availability was published by Green Car Reports today, which also happens to be my birthday…
Great news from Detroit this morning: The North American International Auto Show has named the Chevrolet Bolt EV the “Car of the Year!”