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.