Another way to tell your dealership is serious about EVs…

I got a call from Tom Durant, the owner of the Chevy dealership, for which I work. He asked me where I was and then asked me to come to his office.

Bolt EV vs. Volt

One thing about me: Whenever this happens, I have a moment of panic, expecting the, “Well, Buzz, we gave this EV thing a good try, but it’s just not working out, so…” talk.

A few minutes later he called again and said, “I’ve got some people for you to meet. Meet us at the bottom of the stairs.” When I arrived, a stream of well-dressed businesspeople were streaming out the door, with Tom in the lead. He introduced them to me as members of the Texas Automobile Dealer’s Association, or TADA. This year, Tom is the chairman of TADA. We wanted me to give the TADA members a tour of “Electric Avenue,” our EV & Hybrid Sales & Learning Center.EA Main Room

As we walked toward my building, I gave them a short history of how I came to be in the car business and what Classic Chevrolet is doing with this new center. I spoke about the “educational sale,” where the customer is going to visit the dealership 4 to 5 times, before making a purchase, instead of buying “on the spot” like in a traditional car sale.

Once inside, the visitors had very good questions for me about what it is like to sell EVs, what concerns customers have, what has surprised me most about driving EVs, how built-out is the charging infrastructure, etc. I felt the questions were so well though-out that these must be questions on the minds of many car dealers today.

If anything, it showed me that, even in oil-rich Texas, car dealers are sitting up and taking notice of plug-in vehicles and want to better understand how to be successful selling them.

Maybe I’m having an impact after all…

Greater Fort Worth Sierra Club meeting: Electric vehicles

On Wednesday, March 22, The Greater Fort Worth Sierra Club hosted a meeting about the state of EVs in the State of Texas. It was held in a meeting room at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. Presenting at the meeting, was Kristina Ronneberg of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

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Kristina may be reached at KRonneberg@nctcog.org

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North Texas has made huge strides in reducing air pollution. One of my daughters suffered respiratory issues on really bad air quality days and throughout her life, I’ve witnessed the bad days becoming fewer and fewer…

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I added the example vehicles.

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This is how I met NCTCOG: The Electric Vehicles North Texas stakeholder group.

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NCTCOG does a FANTASTIC job promoting National Drive Electric Week.

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This is where I see things a bit differently. In my opinion, the VAST majority of EV miles will be local, not cross-country. For this reason, I recommend focusing on changes to construction codes, to encourage outlets for charging in multi-family construction, encouragement of making 220V outlets standard in new home garage construction. Hotel/motel/restaurant charger focus for long distance trips and finally, charger locations in urban areas that are in areas people could reasonably expect to be at, for multiple hours at a time: malls, theaters, hospitals, restaurants, arenas/stadia, hotels, city parks, golf courses.

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See previous slide for my thoughts on this.

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Texas’ Senate Bill 26 may bring back the $2,500 incentive for eligible vehicles registered in Texas. (I got one of these checks!)

Chevy Bolt EV and the new EV/Hybrid Sales Center

Buzz, Bolt EV brochure and "Electric Avenue"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.

Eddy Grant "KIller on the Rampage" album

This is the album cover. 80’s enough for ya?

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.

Bolt EV at Classic Chevrolet

Potential Bolt EV buyers attending the grand opening

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.

Buzz at the Mothership

Buzz at the Mothership.

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.

EA Main RoomI 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.

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Buzz, in an Apple brochure

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.

Education LoungeAnother 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.

It worked!

Robert, the Bolt EV owner, chatting with other EV enthusiasts!

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.

Bolt BadgeI 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.

Many thanks to Tom Durant for the opportunity to move EV sales forward!Tom Durant, Buzz and a street sign

National Drive Electric Week 2016: DFW

NDEW2016The numbers are out for #NDEW2016 attendance in North Texas (courtesy of North Texas Electric Auto Association). Both in attendee and vehicle counts, Texas ranked #2 in the United States, behind California. At the local gathering, at Grapevine Mills Mall in Grapevine, Texas, attendees ranked 4th in the nation (404 attendees), and #1 outside California, while vehicles shown ranked 3rd (125 plug-in vehicles).NDEW2016-Grapevine, TexasThe striking aspect of the event, for me at least, was the difference in interest level. At #NDEW2015, I was only able to gather contact information on five people. At #NDEW2016, people were coming up to me, asking to be put on the list to be notified when the Chevy Bolt is imminent. Thirty are currently (no pun intended) on my notification list.

The Bolt appears to be making an impression on people. There was even one guy, wearing a Tesla Model 3 shirt asking about it. I told him that I believed that, depending where he is on the waiting list, he could lease a Bolt for three years and probably still be waiting for his Model 3, when his Bolt lease ended. In this way, he could get on board the 200+ mile EV bandwagon a few years early. He seemed to be seriously considering this…

If you showed up to a #NDEW2016 event, thank you for helping push the revolution forward!

National Drive Electric Day 2015, Texas Style!

I was framed!

I was framed!

I’m sitting on my couch this Sunday, thinking about the great gathering of EVers (and the EV-curious) at the National Drive Electric Day 2015 event held at Grapevine Mills Mall. There was a lot for me to celebrate this year, from being awarded the General Motors Mark of Excellence in my first year of auto sales, getting to be at the unveiling of the redesigned Chevy Volt and all-new Bolt back in January, test-driving a Tesla Model S P85D, the change in Texas law that will now allow me to have solar panels installed on our home, and more.

Pamela starting 'em out young!

Pamela starting ’em out young!

But this is a high note that stands out. This year’s event was so much better than last year’s. We had the cooperation of charger companies, car dealerships, EV enthusiast organizations and government agencies. Instead of several separate events, this year we all pulled together to create and promote a unified event where people could come to celebrate OR learn about electric vehicles. And many did, including 116 EV owners and their vehicles…and this was on a rare rainy Texas day!

EV owners showed up in large numbers this year (116) and were there to tell anyone who would listen about their experience. I saw BMW i3’s and i8’s, Fisker Karmas, Chevy Volts, Tesla Model S’s and Roadsters, Nissan Leafs (Leaves???), Cadillac ELRs and even a Mitsubishi iMiEV! I even met a guy who is one of the first of the 45,000+ on the waiting list to buy an Elio (non-EV).

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Someone from out-of-town interested in EVs?

I saw at least eight of my Volt customers there and found it so gratifying that they were not only talking about their EVs, they were talking about their purchase and service experiences as well. I overheard several people specifically tell potential buyers that if someone was looking for a Volt, that they should come to Classic Chevrolet, due to our deep understanding of the car, on both the pre-sales and post-sales sides of the business. I heard our Service Advisor (and fellow Volt owner) Tim Foote praised highly by his clients. And yes, although seemingly self-serving here, I have to say I heard several say I was a great person from whom to get an EV. My dealership gave away several door prizes, including a weekend with a 2015 Chevy Volt, which was won by a guy named Christopher.

I heard horror stories as well. People who bought their EV on a used car lot, unassociated with a dealer who sells the new product, were told outright lies or were told, “I don’t know” way too many times One of these stories appears to be headed to litigation… This really brought my posts about all-too-often poor EV sales experiences and how to improve the EV sales experience home.

i8I saw Pedro Alicea, a fellow EV enthusiast, who sells at a BMW dealership and supplied this blog with an i3 to review and Nissan had dealership representation as well. Not all dealerships get it, but this year, it’s obvious which ones do. I also finally got to see the new eVgo Freedom charging stations at Grapevine Mills Mall. Hopefully, the next generation of EV buyers will have better experience, through the guidance of those of us who have blazed the trail.

I can’t wait for next year’s event!!!

National Drive Electric Week 2015

National Drive Electric WeekClassic Sign & NDEWIt’s that time of year again: National Drive Electric Week! #NDEW2015

To see what events are planned, check the national site here. As for the Dallas/Fort Worth area event, you can find information here. North Central Texas Council of Governments put their press release for the event here.

Of course, Classic Chevrolet is gearing up for it, too. We’re having hot dogs and hamburgers on the main showroom’s front porch, where all our remaining Volts will be on display, fully charged and ready to test drive! I sent this mailing to all our Volt clients as well:

Volt Invitation

Here’s the schedule for the DFW area event:

This year’s DFW event will be held on Saturday, September 19, from 10:00am to 2:00pm in section 2C (between Neiman Marcus Last Call and Saks Off 5th) of the Grapevine Mills Mall parking lot.

10:00 am – Event Opening!
Electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers, charging infrastructure retailers, EV fleet representatives, North Texas environmental and electric vehicle advocacy organizations, and even an electricity-powered bicycle company will be set up and ready to answer all of your questions!

Exhibitors and Ride and Drives will be available throughout the entire event.

11:00 am – EV Check-In
All North Texas electric and plug-in electric vehicle owners are called to join the largest gathering of EVs in North Central Texas! Check in to get your EV Owner badge and show off your ride.

11:30 am – Official EV Count
It won’t be an official record, but it will surely be one for the books! Let’s show everyone how DFW does EV!

12:00 pm – The Car Guy Show
Tim Miller and crew, from DFW’s own The Car Guy Show will be on site to profile the event, talk to owners, and explore the world of EVs.

1:00 pm – Nissan Giveaway Drawing: Free LEAF for a Weekend!
All attendees will be entered into a drawing to win a weekend with a Nissan Leaf. Stick around to see if you’re the lucky winner.

1:00 pm – Classic Chevrolet Giveaway Drawing: Free VOLT for a Weekend!
All attendees will be entered into a drawing to win a weekend with a Chevy Volt. Stick around to see if you’re the lucky winner!

2:00 pm – Event Ends
The event wraps up and the packing up process begins. Thank you to everyone who attended and participated!

Additional activities throughout the event will include hands on displays for all ages to learn more about EVs and charging options, along with entertainment, snacks, and giveaways.

How to Make DFW’s National Drive Electric Week Even Better

Register for the event!
If you drive an EV, bring it (and register it for the event, too)!
RSVP to the Facebook event .
Bring your friends! You can help us get the word out and let other North Texans experience the joys of Driving Electric. Share the Facebook event, and use the hashtags #texasEV, #NDEW2015, and #DFWCCC to let everyone know you’re attending!