Chevy dealers turn down more Volts- Hallelujah!

The latest in the “let’s make a story about how EVs suck where there is none” trend is this morning’s news that certain Chevrolet dealers are choosing not to take more Volt inventory.  Sensationalistic media outlets are framing this as a nationwide lack of demand, because of course, Clovis, CA (near Fresno) is representative of the entire country. In fairness, dealers in New York City are also lackluster. But much as automakers push that market area for regulatory reasons – New York is a CARB state – NYC has always been problematic as an EV market area due to lack of private vehicle ownership and parking.

Just as there’s no one car for everyone, plug-in vehicles won’t sell well everywhere in the near term. There are also certain realities of dealer processes that make plug-ins more time-consuming to sell even in the most attractive of places. More people come to check out the cool new car than actually buy them, compared to conventional vehicles. And those who buy might have to order them, perhaps install charging infrastructure, etc., which means that rarely are they driving away in a shiny new EV the same day. Service departments are often reluctant too; the standard technician pay structure and lack of upselling potential isn’t conducive to new technology. Automakers need to be aware of and address these issues, while dealers must be more realistic about the learning curve. But inevitably, those dealers who decide it’s not worth the trouble will drop out.

This won’t be unique to Chevrolet; we have and will continue to see the same with other plug-in programs. But it’s also a good thing, potentially exceeded only by those automakers who realize from the start that not all dealers should be selling plug-ins. It’s simple; those who are not truly invested provide a poor customer experience and hurt sales, which damages public perception of plug-in vehicles. Dealers dropping out is often a self-fulfilling prophesy, but given how virally these customers share their experiences both good and bad, better to have it happen sooner than later. Then again, I’ve also seen customers travel hundreds of miles to a dealer whose salespeople or technicians are genuinely interested and provide a good experience. Loyalty among EV buyers and drivers is stunningly high, but as with most other things it must be earned- and this is hardly news.

23 thoughts on “Chevy dealers turn down more Volts- Hallelujah!

  1. Good call Chelsea – Perhaps what the Clovis Volt dealer didn’t want to disclose was the possibility that the Leaf vehicles from the local Fresno/ Clovis Nissan dealer were more competitive (and all electric) products.. Hmmmm

  2. I flew a friend to Bakersfield to get his Volt.

    He loves it. He loves it so much he put a solar system (SolarCity) on his house to power it.

  3. Sage words! But then a person with experience is never at the mercy of those with an argument — and more than anyone I know — YOU have experience with the marketing of plug-in vehicles, Chelsea!

  4. She’s baaaaack! Enjoyed your post- it is remarkable how hounded EVs are. Well, after the NHSTA concluded that the Volt was safe after all, that story was suddenly no longer news-worthy (I know, THAT’S a shocker!), so the skeptics had to find something to grouse about. I hope you were able to post your excellent and reasoned riposte on the Story’s web page.

  5. As a LEAF salesman, I concur. I’ve had many people come to my dealership after having bad experiences at others. I understand this car and the myriad reasons people want to buy it. When a dealer’s sales force does not understand the car, or worse, sees it as a low margin vehicle that won’t earn him/her a large commission, they tend not to offer the customer the proper information on which to make their buying decision. We need dealerships and sales personnel who are enthusiastic about the product to be selling plug-in cars. Those dealerships that do this will succeed in the long run. Those that don’t will join the buggy whip makers of yore.

  6. Chelsey:
    The volt will not be a sales success simply because it does nothing for the environment, is much too dependent on long extended services and does close to nothing to diminish imported oil. The idea that it offers a 100 mpg economy by not counting the energy consumed by the utility to generate the power to charge its batteries is ludicrous. In actual fact, its fuel economy is no more that 33 mpg. And for that you have to shell out about $14,000 for batteries which don’t last forever.

    1. Johan, your math is way off. Most of the Volt drivers I know have been driving over a thousand miles on less than a tank of gas. Sure, they are using kWh to power the bulk of the miles, but this is clearly a huge savings of oil. Solar and wind energy is the favored source of the kWh, too, so there is significant savings on the pollution side. Maybe you could collect your thoughts and tell us again why you see no savings.

    2. Johan,

      I have drive 7,000 miles in my Volt and I have put less than 30 gallons of gas it in. I realize the math is difficult, but I promise I do better than 250+ miles per gallon.

      I have solar panels on my house. The electricity I buy from SoCal Edison has a component from solar and renewable sources.

      You should do a little research. It’s a great car.

    3. If someone never plugged their Volt, then you may be right. The Holden Volt (looks like a Chevy, has suspension from the Ampera) has just been launched in Australia. At AUD64,000 on-road with no tax breaks and USD6 a gallon (US) petrol… owners will be plugging it in, you can be assured of that!

      An ICE generally gets dirtier with age and an EV generally gets cleaner. They diverge because in an ICE, moving parts wear and become less efficient and the extraction and refinement of oil will (has?) become more difficult. Whereas an EV that currently gets charged from a coal-burning grid which is gradually being replaced by wind, solar and other alternatives gets cleaner. Yes batteries wear out, but not to the point of complete failure
      Robert Llewellyn (Fully Charged) quotes “well-to-wheel” CO2 figures that add 50g/km for an EV on the dirtiest grid conditions in Europe and add 400g/km for a petrol vehicle in Europe. Some 7kWh of electricity is used to produce 1 gallon (Imp) of petrol (about 1kWh per litre) so every ICE uses a fair chunk of an EV’s lifeblood.
      (The CO2 and kWh figures are for Europe. YMMV)

  7. Yup, my recent experience with both the Chevy and Nissan dealers in Reno has left me very sour on electric vehicles.

    We were putting together a weekend screening of RotEC with displays, student groups, panel discussion, media and so on–and the dealers said “count us in” when I initially bounced the idea pass them–but when it came time to kick down a couple of hundred dollars for a booth they said “No.”

    Now it may have been my fault for not being explicit with them that there would be a charge for them to display at the event when I first contacted them, but really, they thought our EAA group would do all of that work and give them a free booth?

    Talking to the Chevy dealer (this was during the Detroit Auto Show and all of the anti-EV crap in the media) he was real down on EVs, clearly, he considered them a disruptive technology, hence a nuisance. I got a similar impression from the Nissan dealer as well.

    It’s unbelievable to me that they would not kick down a couple of hundred dollars (when they spend thousands each week in advertising) to not only tap over six hundred EV enthusiasts in northern Nevada, but also align themselves with a media event that would feature children from two of the premier science and technology charter schools in our area (these are children with affluent parents). What a bunch of jerks.

    So after six years of doing my part–for free–to get the public and our local a state government ready for EVs, I am now shifting my focus to building conversions and discouraging new car purchases.

    Screw the new car dealers. I get calls weekly from locals looking to buy, so if I can’t talk them into a conversion or a motorcycle, I definitively leave them with the impression to avoid our local new car dealers.

    PS: Chels, the distributor of RotEC was jerking us around as well. First it was $300 or 40 percent of ticket sales, which ever was higher. Then when he found out we wanted to show the film six times at the museum (the film was to be included with the museum’s ticket price which was reduced to $2 for one screening for the students) he decided to change the rate. I was not involved with that part of it so I don’t have the details. So four of the screenings would have had almost no viewers (just the drop in museum attendees who decided to sit through part of the film), one screening would have been well attended with kids who paid $2 not only for the movie but also the museum (and our group was paying for the bus to get them to the museum), and one screening would have had adults who paid for not only the museum, but refreshments, a panel discussion, and the displays. Yet the distributor wanted to jack up the price. 😦

  8. Although I wasn’t in CA a decade ago (nor was I employed by GM! so I’d be happy to hear more of your take), I’ve always assumed that much of GM’s issues with the EV-1 centered around the dealers. It doesn’t matter what kind of car you make if the dealers don’t try to sell it.

    If it’s new, expensive, low volume, low margin, the dealers don’t drive one, and it requires less service (which is where the dealers make most of their money) I can see where dealers wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time learning about it to be able to educate curious consumers. That’s why I think a PHEV makes a more sense for a company with a dealer network to start with.

    But even there, the electric part still takes some learning, so I’m in full agreement–only the dedicated dealers should be selling it!

  9. We train a couple of the UK dealer networks for mainstream EV models and sit on some industry panels too.

    One common reason why EV (and more so PHEV) is difficult to express in performance and to compare – and also relates to the extra effort needed in the sales process – is the ‘results will vary’ aspect.

    I can see a repeat of the early days of Prius with fleet drivers doing hundreds of miles per day taking these cars very naively and being disappointed by the mpg figure. I hope that there will be more of the relatively low, regular daily mileage (commute) drivers who will get the high proportion EV use versus fuel use… and that ultimately it will encourage them to go pure EV as their situation allows, next time around maybe.

    This variability is very hard to encapsulate in a meaningful way in the economy stickers at the point of sale. We have a similar sticker in the UK (similar across Europe) to that in the US; but it SO much depends on your pattern of usage that it is a challenge to represent it in a meaningful way. Even on pure EV, the only official figure represents the range of e.g. a Nissan LEAF as 109 miles. That’s it. No qualification. But we know that 75 miles (as in one of the US range figures) is more appropriate for open road running. The situation is worse for (P)HEV. And for emissions, electric is counted as 0g CO2 etc… otherwise too difficult to calculate for average punters… and hope everyone uses a ‘green tariff’ if not direct renewables.

    And that goes someway towards the dealer expectation too… a lot more qualification is necessary: a lot steeper learning curve too, for a model which many see is very minor in their overall strategy. And usually quite an investment for the dealership to cater for sales and service too. But that’s where our work comes in! You can see it in some dealers who very much embrace the new technology and see it as a ‘long game…’ not just shifting more ‘units’ this month. But you get the individuals who are anti-EV, either through ignorance or mainstream media… we call it the Clarkson effect here after the popular motoring ‘journalist!’

  10. Reminds me of how difficult it was to get an EV-1 at the Saturn dealership…can’t believe we are still in this loop of limits.

  11. No problems and not difficult! Hi I not realy know what i do here, but I see a movie about the EV1. I thougt my company build the first EV-car in series. The I-MIEV. I have a lot of respect about the possibilities from the EV1.

    One hour ago I thougt we make

    advantage through technology

    Know I know, that a real working Idear is more than fifteen years old.

    I am glad that I can say it works in the real live to 100%

    I am a I-MIEV dealer and in Germany you can have an EV-car in one day.

    We produce thousands of it every year (ok ok Mitsubishi produce it 🙂 ). My biggest range was 108 miles 100% electric.

    Know I know the EV1 please if you do not know the I-MIEV google it.

    Best regards from Germany

    In some years every second car is an electric car.

  12. one important point:
    You can buy you I-MIEV cash, so the car is to 100% your own.
    Nobody and I meen nobody can take your I-MIEV away.

  13. 30 years of car ownership and I have yet to find a car dealership that I feel I can trust. I have found their only concerns are profit margin and soaking their customers for as much as they can – go figure, it must be something with the industry.

    I am aslo disapointed to learn the eFit will only be leased from Honda. It sounds like what they did in the late 90’s. Too bad, $400/month and no ownership in the end – great incentive.

    I am in the market for a new car, I hope an electric.

    Metro New York, NY
    (’98 eRav, & DIY electric bike)

  14. Hi Chelsea, your statement, “It’s simple; those who are not truly invested provide a poor customer experience and hurt sales, which damages public perception of plug-in vehicles.”, was right on target.

    My wife and I feel that visiting car dealerships is like going to the dentist to get a root-canal. It’s a procedure that periodically you have to endure despite the pain. Last May we visited our local Chevy dealership in the hopes of buying a Volt, but unfortunately the experience exceeded our pain threshold.

    During the 1990’s I worked at an electric utility in the nation’s capitol and the company obtained an EV1. Only the executives got to drive it, but I had occasion to see it on a regular basis when I parked my car near it, and I quizzed the execs on the driving experience. Their enthusiasm must have rubbed off on me, since I have been fascinated with the prospect of owning an electric car ever since.

    So for about two decades following the advent of the EV1 I waited for a modern incarnation of a practical electric vehicle to hit the market. When the Volt was announced I thought that maybe this was finally it. True, I had serious reservations about doing business with the same company that killed the electric car many years earlier. However, eventually I decided to visit the local Chevy dealership with my wife to check the Volt out.

    We got to do a test drive, although the moron trying to sell the car knew less about it than I did. He also annoyed me by vigorously refusing to let me take it on an interstate highway. The car was also pricier than we expected. Nonetheless, the car did a better job of salesmanship that the sales staff so I paid the $1,000 deposit to reserve one and began my wait for the factory to allocate cars to the Florida market. The salesman made a point of explaining that the cars were being sold in California and I might not have to wait. He went on to describe that just a few weeks earlier one of our local celebrities, horror novelist Stephen King, had bought a Volt for his wife for an additional $10,000 premium over the list price.

    Well, guess what, I’m no Stephen King, so I said we’d wait for the allocation. While we waited I received a call from the salesman. He said he was going over our order and he noticed that we had a PT Cruiser. He said that they had a Volt on-hand that matched our order and that they needed used cars for resale. So he figured that it would be a WIN-WIN situation, we would get our car earlier, and they would get a car that was in demand for resale. I said sure we’ll come in. When we got there it turned out that the car didn’t match our order, but more importantly they wanted an additional $8,000 over list price. We were rather incensed by this sleazy maneuver, told the salesman we didn’t appreciate being called in under false pretences, and left with a very bad taste in our mouths.

    So we began to have misgivings about doing business with this dealer, and while searching for information on the Volt, I happened to find a website that listed a number of soon to be released electric cars. One of them was the very compelling Tesla Model S. WOW! As fate would have it a prototype was scheduled to visit our town in couple of weeks. When I saw it in person I immediately gave Tesla a $5,000 deposit for a reservation, and when my wife said she wasn’t interested in the Volt I cancelled my reservation and big GM lost a sale to a startup company.

    Two months later Tesla invited us to join them for a factory visit. They wined and dined us, took us for a thrilling test ride, and in general treated us like royalty. It was night and day from our Chevy sales experience. Since then I have become a rabid Tesla supporter and have begun organizing a Florida Tesla Motors Club.

    Larry Chanin

  15. Hi Chelsea,
    I am a teacher at a Canadian community College. I teach a course called Environmental Citizenship. I really enjoyed your documentary about the Electric Car and I was wondering if your would be interested in conducted a Skype interview for my upcoming class. I was thinking of having my students view the documentary as an assignment and if you are willing I could Skype you into the classroom and we can conduct an interview. I hope to hear from you.

  16. Maybe they aren’t selling as much because the salesmen don’t know how to sell them yet. They sell what they know, and EVs are still relatively new. I’m guessing the average salesman knows much more about a Chevy Malibu than he does a Volt, so they are naturally selling lower numbers on the EVs

  17. The first time I bought a car, I got ripped off. I traded in my car for less than it was worth, bought a clunker for more than I should have, and got talked into a $950 warranty to cover rust as I was finalizing the paperwork. `

    Newest post from our new blog page

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