Winning New Electric Vehicle (EV) Customers

NADA also releases new Driven publication, “A Dealer Guide to Marketing Electric Vehicles”

NADA Video: Panelists discuss electric vehicle (EV) sales at the 2016 NADA Convention & Expo.

LAS VEGAS (April 22, 2016) – Dealers shared advice, experience and recommendations for capturing and retaining electric-vehicle customers during a workshop and panel discussion at the NADA Convention & Expo in Las Vegas on April 2.

For participants and attendees alike, the message was clear: Successfully marketing EVs hinges on a dealer’s ability to turn salespeople into “EV experts” in order to make a customer feel confident about investing in a vehicle that may require them to think differently about commuting, long-distance travel, service, financing and even parking.

“The very first thing I always ask [a potential customer] is how far is your commute, can you plug in at home and can you plug in at work? For most people, it works for them,” said Nigel Zeid, a sales and leasing professional at Boulder Nissan in Colorado, who calls himself the “resident EV geek” at his dealership.

Those who ask and answer the right questions will not only succeed in winning over interested EV customers, but also will be able to discuss additional benefits that even educated EV shoppers didn’t know existed.

“I think the secret is to find the ‘Electric Einstein,’ the passionate person in your dealership who can sell these,” said Dave Rolf, executive director of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association. “They take it on as their own entrepreneurship, and then the rest falls into place.”

Bill Bayne, a hybrid/EV specialist at Kearney Pearson Ford in San Diego, explained how a young lot attendant working at the dealership was excited about high-tech products and EVs. He was promoted to sales and is now one of the leading EV salespeople at the dealership, Bayne said.

“When you begin to explain EVs to customers, you can see the crossed arms, the body language,” Bayne said. “But when they understand it, you can see the enthusiasm at that point, see it in their eyes, see it in their smiles. It’s huge.”

But Zeid noted that having just one resident “EV geek” on staff may not be enough for some dealerships. 

“Every person must know that car inside and out,” Zeid said. Some salespeople initially may be resistant to taking on that challenge, but even an extra few minutes spent answering questions from EV shoppers pays off with added sales from enthusiastic drivers. Now customers know that salespeople at Boulder Nissan have expertise in this area, and that’s what keeps them coming back, Zeid added.

In addition to hosting the EV workshop at the 2016 convention, NADA released its new Driven publication: A Dealer Guide to Marketing Electric Vehicles (available for free to members. Sign in and click "Continue" to download). The guide provides dealers and their employees with detailed information and a list of resources they can use to address customer issues regarding battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

One of the best sources of information is the vehicle manufacturer. “Each OEM has a suite of sales information and training programs to help dealership staff with PEV marketing,” the Driven guide explained. “As with all new vehicles, product knowledge is critical to understanding unique vehicle features and key selling points.”

Heath Carney, EV and sustainability manager at Sullivan Chevrolet in Roseville, Calif., who just had a story about EV technology published in Charged magazine, discussed a video he made for salespeople to illustrate the best way to test drive the cars.

“Points that are not easy to explain to potential customers include the rebates and incentives for which various customers qualify,” said Carney.

And while bolstering current sales is important, some panelists stressed that having an educated dealership staff is just as critical to laying the foundation for more sales in the future.

For example, although plug-ins (which includes both plug-in hybrids and EVs) make up more than 3 percent of new vehicles sold in California and less than 1 percent nationally, the number is likely grow significantly in the future, said panel moderator Eric Cahill, a customer experience consultant and president of Adaptiv Consulting. 

“This represents a chance to reach a whole new group of customers,” said Cahill, whose company advises automakers and dealers on effective strategies for introducing technologies like EVs and fuel-cell vehicles to car shoppers. Cahill likened EV enthusiasts to those that are loyal to brands such as Apple computers or the Jeep brand. 

Cahill said that’s why it’s vital for dealers to recruit salespeople who are passionate and enthusiastic about the technology so they are enthusiastic about becoming experts at explaining it.

The panelists also discussed the misconception that EV sales remain low because dealers are reluctant to sell them.

“New-car dealerships invest tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in facility upgrades required by their respective automakers to sell EVs, so it doesn’t make any sense that they wouldn’t want to sell EVs after they’ve upgraded their stores,” Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, said at the convention workshop, Selling Plug-Ins: How to Spark Interest & Make Deals.

Carney said that if dealers continue doing what they are doing – being their customer’s best advocates, and working toward turning new-car buyers into dealership customers for life – the narrative will take care of itself.

“You have to understand the enthusiasm of these customers,” Carney said. “EVs, to me, can make the dealership a much more vital part of local and regional economies and communities.”

View the complete convention coverage