I often see comments on Facebook’s Chevy Volt Owners group (a great group for those wanting to learn about the Volt or EVs in general) about GM or the dealerships not “pushing” Volts. Things get particularly heated, when a state legislature or court opposes Tesla Motors’ sales model being “banned” from the state, due to NADA or dealership opposition. In the past year, sitting behind a sales desk at a dealership, I’ve gotten a new perspective on this. I’ve said this before, but here I go again:
The lack of sales effort and knowledge is NOT due to the dealers, it’s the profit margin that is to blame (for the salesperson, dealership and GM). The sale of a Volt (or just about any EV) is an educational sale. The time it takes to educate a customer about an EV, charging, battery life, tax incentives, etc. is money down the drain for a salesperson. In the time it takes to sell an EV, they could have sold two or three trucks or sportscars. EVs are so new that the profit margin (on which the salesperson is paid) is very thin, exacerbating the problem. In your job, if you could do a task that took very little effort, but paid very highly, versus a task that was very difficult but paid very little, which would YOU choose to do?
Salespeople are mercenary. They do what they do for money (like all of us). Trying to get them to spend extra time selling something that doesn’t earn them much, is like trying to push a rope. Dealerships can coax them with a little extra money, but if there are lower-hanging fruit to pick, they (like most people) will grab it.
Although I have no particular insight into GM, I’m sure the same is true with the Volt. Volt owners are appalled at the lack of advertising GM does for the Volt, especially when compared to relative newcomers to the market, like the Kia Soul EV. A GM executive has acknowledged that they lose money on every Volt sale. Again, if you were selling lemonade at a loss, would you still stand at the curb, pushing your lemonade aggressively?
That being said, there are some salespeople (like me) that feel the adoption of EVs is their mission. We are willing to take the time to learn as much as possible and teach as much as possible (even speaking at events on our own time, blogging, etc) in order to move the world forward, toward a better day. There are also some dealers (like the one I work for) who pay bonuses for EV sales, even when these bonuses turn a profitable sale into a loss. They install multiple chargers and allow their customers to charge for free. Some, (like the one I work for) pay their customer’s 1st year of charging at an affiliated charging network, even though it further reduces profitability. They, like us, want to see the world move toward a sustainable future and I salute them for it.
As customers, we should try to recognize dealers (and salespeople) who support EV adoption and support them by:
- Buying from them rather than shopping on price alone.
- Referring others to the dealer/salesperson, every time we tell people about our wonderful EVs.
- Letting dealership management know when you’ve had a great interaction with a salesperson who’s obviously gone above and beyond for you.
- Letting the dealership’s owner know how important you feel EVs are for the future of our country & planet.
Are some dealership owners greedy? Yes. Some portion of ANY population is motivated primarily by greed. However, some dealers are deeply involved in charitable works as well as making money, but don’t crow to the world about it (again, like the one I work for).
Many are enraged, when dealers or their lobbyists (like the National Automobile Dealers Association or NADA) oppose the non-dealership paradigm of Tesla Motors’ sales model (or more accurately “product education model”). The Tesla sales model, patterned after the Apple Store sales model, supports the educational sales cycle very well. How can they afford to do it? By compensating their sales staff at a relatively low salary instead of commission sales. A successful commissioned sales person is motivated to learn product and serve the customer, because that’s how they make a living. A car salesperson that doesn’t sell, doesn’t get paid. In the states that have banned the Tesla sales model, the salesperson doesn’t actually close the sale. They educate the consumer, who then goes somewhere else to access the Tesla website, and complete the transaction. Just like other types of corporations, as well as living creatures, auto dealerships want to survive. Their survival instincts will make them do things like fighting Tesla’s sales model at every turn, because they feel threatened by it. Even if their actions enrage the public, they will do it because they feel they have to.
Are there lazy, unethical salespeople, just looking to make a quick buck? Sure, but they won’t make it in the long run. They key to longevity in the auto sales business is referrals and repeat business from satisfied clients. I’ve had the honor, in my one year of automotive sales so far, to work with some of the most professional, fun, wonderful, helpful and charitable people I’ve EVER worked with, in any field in which I’ve worked.
The dealership sales model will be changed by EVs, but it will take time. Service Departments, in particular, will be savaged by the EV’s almost complete lack of scheduled maintenance. We are in a transitional period and are in uncharted territory. Dealers & salespeople (the good ones anyway) are feeling their way into this new era and learning as they go. In my honest opinion, the Tesla sales model is best for Tesla, at this stage of their development. Volume is low (compared to ICE vehicles), and they need the customer experience to be exceptional, so Tesla needs complete control over those selling them. In the future, when volume rises to the level of pickups or SUVs, NO amount of hiring will properly support their clientele. Even Apple has partners like Best Buy, Walmart, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc. selling their products. I believe Tesla will eventually need a dealer network to keep quality up.
Just my 2¢.