Election Day

vote bannerYou know what I think we should all do this election day. I’ve made that pretty clear. Of course, It’s not going to happen, so we will have to muddle through with the ineffective politicians that our polarized electorate provides. If we can’t run off all incumbents, the next most important priority is:

VOTE!

The Senate is going to be controlled, albeit by a razor-thin majority, by one of the two major parties. Make sure your voice is heard. Your vote is one more drop of water in a bucket that is going to tip over one way or another. You never know. Your vote might be the one that tips our Senate (and our government, for that matter) in one direction versus another. Voting does not guarantee that you will get your way. It may even turn out that your voice is not heard. That being said, the one way you can guarantee your voice (and dreams for a better future) are NEVER heard, is to not vote.

Your vote, even if for a losing cause, can make a race closer than it would have been and may encourage like-minded people to vote in the future.

What is at stake is our direction regarding global climate change, funding for the EPA, and who knows, we may even see a challenge mounted against subsidies for EVs or renewable energy. Gasoline prices have plummeted recently and that could cause those who don’t believe mankind plays a role in climate change to question the logic of all the things being done to ameliorate it.I voted

Personalization priorities

In my entire life, I have never ordered customized or “vanity” license plates. I didn’t do it when I had my 1974 Triumph TR-6. I didn’t do it when I had Lexus ES300s (four in a row, between my life and myself). I didn’t even do it when I got my first Volt (and fell in love with it). Or when we got one for my wife.

Those were both leases.

Now, we’ve bought one and I caved.

Here it is:My New Volt's License Plate

Oops, I did it again! Lisa R. Buyah?

It all started when I saw the advertisement. It had hit the streets a full 24 hours before, and a moment of panic set in.The AdZoomAs I perused the ad, in order to be ready for any incoming calls, I noticed the Volts. “Holy cow!” I thought (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). These are going to fly out the door! This is my very best chance to get another Volt. I can’t let this slip by!

67 Camaro Rally Sport & the gang

My goofy friends and me, on my Camaro. circa 1975

Wait a moment: “Why on Earth do you need another Volt?,” you may ask. “You have two already!” you may chide. Well, it’s like this: I have a daughter who’s going to turn sixteen in April of 2015. She wants a Camaro or Mustang. I work at a Chevy dealership, so nix the Mustang. My first car was a Camaro, (a sweet 1967 Rally Sport) but I knew how irresponsible I had been with that car and I didn’t think I wanted my daughter to succumb to the same temptations. Also, I really didn’t want to get back into the gasoline game. I had been spoiled by our Volts. I wanted to raise my daughter to be gasoline-free.

The Volts in the ad were service loaners, so they had a few miles on them, I knew, but I had loaned one of them to a customer, who had purchased a Volt from me. I knew it had been driven by another Volt enthusiast. (now that I think of how I drive my Volt, that may not have been a plus…) Anyway, back to your question: Why?

Darth Volt (the loaner)

Well, our first two Volts were leased, not purchased. We had set the leases up for 15,000 miles per year and I was going to go way over that. I had driven mine to Chicago and back, to attend the Chicago Auto Show, to Austin and back, for a battery technology conference, and to many evening engagements and eco-fairs to speak about the benefits of owning an electric vehicle. It appeared I was going to go over my mileage limit about six months before the end of the lease. My wife Bonnie was going a bit over as well, as she takes our daughter Zoe to lots of fencing competitions (swords & sabers, not picket & chain link).

To compound this, the new Volt design is to be shown to the world in January of 2016 at the North American International Auto Show. I plan to be there for the unveiling. I needed to be able to hold off, on acquiring my next Volt, until the redesign became available, which would presumably be later in 2015, after my miles would be costing me an arm and a leg.

Then I spotted the ad.

I literally ran into the Inventory Manager’s office, to make sure at least one of these Volts was still available. Fortunately, one was. I went back to my desk and kept switching hats between customer and salesperson. We haggled back and forth for a while. As a customer, I was tenacious about getting every incentive I was due. As a salesperson, I was tenacious about finding every incentive for my customer (as usual). In the end, we agreed to GM Employee Pricing plus another $1,500 in other incentives. It was quite a deal! We were…uh…I was quite pleased.

At the Saturday morning sales staff meeting, I let all the other salespeople know about the ad and that all the Volts were gone. I explained that we would probably get a lot of people coming in, only to find out there were no more Volts at that price and that they would probably be upset. When I mentioned I had gotten the last one, they all busted up, laughing. What’s up with that???

Lisa R. Buyah?

I have always recommended leasing the Volt, over buying, because the technology of EVs  changes so rapidly. Who wants to be stuck with an antique? Lower payments and protection against obsolescence seemed like an obvious plus for leasing. Over the year I’ve been in the car business, I discovered two things:

  • Leasing requires a better credit rating than buying.
  • Government incentives got a lot better for Texans in 2014.

The credit requirements are not an issue, but my steering people toward leasing has resulted in some clients being disappointed when they discovered their credit was not strong enough for a lease. In the future, I’ll be able to explain the pros and cons of each approach, based on a more complete experience. Why? Because this time we bought our Volt!

In May of 2014, the State of Texas introduced a $2,500 rebate program for purchasers of plug-in vehicles. This rebate, added to the $7,500 income tax credit offered by the federal government meant a cool ten large would be coming to you-know-who. As we were preparing our last home for sale, we withdrew large sums from my IRA, to pay for much needed updates. I’m not 59 1/2 years old yet, so I knew I would get a 10% penalty for any funds withdrawn. During that same time, I had tried commission sales of pollution-free electricity, with Green Mountain Energy and moved into a new career of automobile sales at Classic Chevrolet. Either I wasn’t very good at convincing people in Texas that they should be concerned about pollution caused by power generation plants or Texans just weren’t interested. Either way, I was going to starve! I struggled at Green Mountain and needed funds from the IRA to survive. Although I have had some level of success in the car business, (including a month where I made more money than any single month in my life) the ramp-up to success was a bit slow at first. (More funds needed) The bottom line is that my tax bill this year was very heavy. It would be nice to reduce next year’s tax bill by at least enough amount to offset this year’s bill, like say…$10,000. Yeah, that seems like a good round number…

So we decided to buy, this time around.

The new Volt will keep miles off our leased Volts, while our daughter learns to drive. It also serves as a carrot to persuade her to excel in school (come on, scholarship…). At the same time, it will allow us to keep our leases to the end of their terms, by which time the new Volts should be plentiful and many other EVs recently announced will have made it to market. And of course, the cash incentives will come in handy…

I have had the good fortune to be loaned other plug-in vehicles to review, including the Cadillac ELR and the BMW i3 (review soon…I promise). I have driven a Tesla Roadster and I’ve been promised a Tesla Model S by an owner. We have a Nissan Leaf set up to review and, believe it to not, I’ve never done a video review of the Volt! Lots of reviews to do and lots of EVs to consider, before our leases end. I’ll admit I’ve been tempted by some of the ones I’ve driven and have yet to meet an EV I completely hate (although some are fugly, IMHO). So far, I haven’t found one with the combination of range, style, price and performance that exceeds my 2012 Volt. At this point, we’ll probably re-up with a couple second-generation Volts.

For all you manufacturers out there: Want to show me a better way? Loan me your vehicle for a week and let me put it through its paces. I’ll do a fair and balanced (unlike you-know-who) review / video and who knows? Maybe, the next time around, I’ll be crowing about your vehicle. Warning: You’ve got some pretty big shoes to fill.

For now, we’re gambling on the Volt and we’ve got a full house.Full house

Pushing a rope: Why EVs aren’t pushed more and resistance (no pun intended) to Tesla sales model

Kia Soul EV HamstersI 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.

Chevy Volt Commercial (one of the few)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¢.

Why so frou-frou???

There’s something that’s bugged me ever since the original Prius debuted: Why do energy efficient vehicles often look so wimpy? They are often odd looking to an extreme. I wonder if this is because the manufacturers want to make sure their new product category is noticed or if it is because owners of these vehicles seem to have a need to proclaim to the world, “Look at me! I’m ecologically better than you!”Mitsubishi I-MiEVSmart EVAptera (now defunct)I know that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but aren’t there some absolutes in visual appeal? Perhaps not. Perhaps concessions to aerodynamics dictate a perfect shape. The Tesla Model S is touted for having a very low coefficient of drag, even lower than the Toyota Prius. See? Efficient doesn’t necessarily mean ugly.

But aesthetics are definitely not universal. My friend Charles and I disagree on almost every single EV. I think the Cadillac ELR is beautiful and he thinks it’s ugly. He thinks the Nissan Leaf is attractive and its looks repulse me (sorry Nissan). Admittedly, the Leaf was the very first EV I ever drove and I was ready to write a check for the down payment, on the spot. I liked the performance and what an electric vehicle meant to me enough to overlook the Leaf’s ugliness. (For all you Leaf owners out there, this is just my opinion. Don’t be offended. Continue reading…)Nissan Leaf

I mean really?!?! Which of these two do you find more visually appealing?Cadillac ELR

Another friend, Kelly was recently looking to move into a plug-in vehicle. Like me, she found the aesthetics of the Leaf lacking (to put it mildly). Her choices came down to two decidedly different vehicles, the Chevrolet Volt and the BMW i3. She had driven my Volt previously and came to Classic Chevrolet to test drive the latest model. She also drove the i3 that was loaned to My Electric Vehicle Journey by BMW of Arlington‘s EV champion, Pedro Alicea. We had borrowed it for a video test drive and review (I swear it’s coming soon…). She liked both vehicles, but ended up opting for the i3 because Pedro was able to get her a lower lease payment (Don’t ask me how. I’m still in shock). On most EV’s, Kelly and I have similar tastes. How she could stand the looks of the i3 will be explained in the review…Chevrolet VoltThe Volt vs. the BMW i3… Really Kelly?!? ;-)BMW i3I know that for EV adoption to happen, the people who do not currently know about EVs have to become aware of them. EVs have to make an impression and be noticed. But the more, for lack of a better term, “funky” looking vehicles, can also turn people away from considering any EV. Many people, noticing only those odd-looking EVs, might assume EVs all look that way and never explore deeper to find ones that are more mainstream in appearance.

Before I got a Volt, I never really noticed them. To me, they looked like a Cruze and, in fact, were often disparaged by the conservative media as a $40K Cruze. We all know that’s not the case (if you don’t know, go test drive both). I often confuse the Nissan Versa and Leaf. Quite often, even as much as I’ve been around EVs, the Ford Fusion, when seen at a distance,looks like a Tesla Model S to me.Ford FusionSeparated at birth? Please Model S owners, do not regale me with protestations! I did say from a distance, but…Tesla Model SSo I understand the marketing motivation of funky and I concede that some people, like my buddy Charles, may actually prefer funky. But the very definition of funky is outside the mainstream and probably unappealing to the masses needed for EVs to succeed.

My message to the EV manufacturers is, there are other ways to stand out than fugliness! One is badging and decals. The rear end of every Leaf has an emblem stating “Zero emission.” Imagine a driver, stuck in rush hour traffic, seeing that…Leaf BadgeThe only thing on my Volt, that lets anyone know it uses electricity, is the lightning bolt in the logo. In fact, GM offers a wrap package for the Volt to show off that it’s electric…sort of. The problem is, it costs extra to advertise for GM! Really??? Why don’t you include the graphic and have an optional charge to remove it? Why not offer it at no charge or even discount the Volt fifty bucks if someone adds the wrap?Volt Logo Wrap

As an EV owner will tell you, we all get approached by people with questions about our EVs, once they realize our vehicle is electric. That takes someone that is aware of EVs to some extent already. If you want to reach more potential customers, make the fact that they’re electric more prominent.

One other thing GM: Don’t allow the most widely seen commercial, featuring the Volt, be a Met Life commercial! ADVERTISE!!!!Met Life CommercialNow some EVs are inspirers of lust The ones that immediately come to mind are:

BMW i8BMW i8

Tesla RoadsterTesla RoadsterCan’t anyone make an EV or plug-in hybrid that has the looks of these beauties at a price affordable for those currently buying other EVs? We don’t need the futuristic doors. We just want to look sporty at a decent price.

Here’s a tip: The first company that does this, gets rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

 

The journey continues…

ChevyIt’s been a year, today. One year ago, I started a new career at Classic Chevrolet in Grapevine, Texas. So much has happened in that year! I’ve gone from being a wide-eyed newbie to the recognized EV go-to person at the dealership. It still amazes me that I’m here. This dealership has been number one Chevy dealership in sales for the entire U.S. for the last eight years in a row! And they hired me, a guy with no car sales experience, solely because of my passion for the Volt. I’ve previously been a technical person on a sales team, never the actual salesperson. Car sales is a 100% commission job, meaning if you sell something you make money and if you don’t sell you don’t make money. It was with a fair amount of trepidation that I embarked on this portion of the journey and I’d say it’s been a success. In August of this year, I earned more than I ever had in one month in my entire career and, better yet, I had a blast doing it! I’ve been blessed with a great bunch of people with whom I work. My success has been because of the time they spent helping me learn this new profession, the faith of my wife which allowed me to try this new profession and the customers who have trusted me to help them select and acquire a new vehicle.

Classic Chevrolet in Grapevine, TexasHave all my sales been Volts? No. To be honest, if I only sold Volts, I would have starved by now. I’ve sold pretty much every model Chevrolet makes and a fair number of those have been Stingrays, Silverados and Tahoes.

BandstandIn that time, I’ve become active with the North Central Texas Council of Governments‘ EV group, helping to promote EVs in the greater Dallas / Fort Worth area. I’ve attended local environmental events, as a representative of the dealership, and my blog has grown to over 11,350 subscribers.

I’ve had a great year and look forward to the coming year with great anticipation.

Thank you all for your support and readership through the last two years of the blog!

-Buzz

September 2014 sales numbers

It was a big downer last month, with ALL plug-in sales decreasing, some worse than others.

Sales, compared to the previous month, looked like this:

  • Chevy Volt: DOWN 44% (1,394 vs. 2,511)
  • Nissan Leaf: slightly down by 10% (2,881 vs. 3,186)
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: DOWN 57% (353 vs. 818)*
  • Tesla Model S: who knows? I’m thinking about dropping it.
  • Cadillac ELR: DOWN 43% (111 vs. 196)
  • BMW i3: almost unchanged (1,022 vs. 1,025)
  • Ford Fusion Energi: DOWN 48% (640 VS. 1,222)
  • Ford C-Max Energi: DOWN 36% (1,050 vs. 831)
  • Chevy Corvette Stingray: down 8% (2,679 vs. 3,060)***

*Quite honestly, if this didn’t carry the Prius name, I wouldn’t understand why people buy it at all.

These numbers reflect what I’ve been seeing all month. Even very experienced salespeople have been struggling to produce a fraction of their usual output. Traffic at the dealership has been down, in a striking fashion. I had heard many other dealerships were experiencing similar slow-downs. The numbers seem to prove that out. Out of all the plug-in vehicles I track, the only ray of sunshine seems to be the Nissan Leaf and the BMW i3.

The Leaf, coming off six months of sales above 2,000 units, dropped only 10% and still posted more sales last month than any month of Volt sales except for August of 2013. That month was the only time the Volt posted more than 3,000 sales, in a single month. For the all-time leader in U.S. plug-in sales, the year-to-date sales showed steadily increasing volume, until a precipitous drop last month. The Plug-in Prius, arced through the year, starting at a lowly 803 units in January, reaching a respectable peak of 2,692 units in May and then experiencing a steady decline back to 818 in August, mirroring its climb. Then the bottom fell out last month, with a paltry 353 sold. The Cadillac ELR has been pretty anemic and dealers are starting to offer extended demonstration drives and then discounting those units substantially. The one we test drove for the upcoming review listed at $80K but was discounted to $57K within a month of our drive. After a slow start, the BMW i3 jumped from the mid-300’s to over 1,000 units. This month, it repeated above 1,000 cars sold with a drop of only 3 units. The Fusion Energi and C-Mac Energi from Ford, like most of the other EVs last month, posted steep declines in sales.

What’s going on here? As I mentioned, my observations lead me to believe this slump is affecting more than just EV sales. It seems to be across the board. In the case of the Volt, are the hints about Volt 2.0 starting to hurt sales? Having worked for Apple in the past, I am familiar with sales dropping as anticipation for the new device builds. Do you think that has anything to do with Volt sales languishing?

September 2014 EV Sales Graphs

Sales, compared to the same month a year ago, looked like this:

  • Chevy Volt: down 21% (1,394 vs. 1,766) .
  • Nissan Leaf: up 48% (2,881 vs. 1,953)
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: DOWN 69% (353 vs. 1,152)
  • Cadillac ELR: (did not exist a year ago)
  • BMW i3: (did not exist a year ago)
  • Ford Fusion Energi: down 15% (640 vs. 750)
  • Ford C-Max Energi: down 11% (677 vs. 758)
  • Chevy Corvette Stingray: way up 297% (2,467 vs. 831)

Gas prices continue to decline with the end of the Summer season but do not seem to be impacting EV sales.