Electric Courtesy Cars: Some Dealers Get It and Some Don’t

By · April 16, 2013

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Does your dealership give you a free plug-in loaner car when your own is in for service?

Last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that the luxury automaker would be sending 80 of its Model S sedans to Tesla service centers across the U.S., just so Tesla customers could be sure of an all-electric courtesy car when their own vehicles are in for service or repair.

As Musk explained, the automaker wanted a substantial all-electric loaner fleet for a long time, but with customers still waiting for their long-reserved Model S sedans, it felt delivering cars to customers was more important than building a courtesy car fleet.

Now that’s changing, with Tesla promising loaner Model S sedans to any Tesla customer having work done on their own Roadster or Model S. And if the service workers come to pick your car up to take it into the shop, they’ll drop off a loaner Model S at the same time.

Other Dealers Go Electric with Loaners

While Tesla might be the only automaker planning a nationwide blanket all-electric loaner fleet for its customers, selected dealers selling other plug-in cars are starting to do it too, including selected Nissan, Chevrolet, and Mitsubishi dealerships.

Take one of my local Nissan dealerships. Knowing that LEAF owners have made the choice to leave gasoline behind, the sales and service teams go out of their way to ensure LEAF customers can have a LEAF loaner when their car is in the shop. The result, of course, is that LEAF owners patronize the dealership which offers LEAF loaners over other local ones offering loaner cars with tailpipes.

Common Sense

Admittedly, you’re still likely to be given a gasoline car when you drop your EV in for service. But for those dealerships that have the ability to offer plug-in loaners to plug-in drivers, it's a no-brainer.

  • Familiarity: Customers given a loaner car similar to their own will feel more at home behind the wheel
  • No gas-station visits: Plug-in car owners won’t have to do the thing they hate the most: visit the gas station.
  • Cheaper running costs: Just like regular plug-in owners, dealerships with plug-in loaners will experience lower running costs for their loaner fleets than they would with gasoline cars.
  • Always Full: Unlike gas loaner cars, plug-in cars can always be fully charged when they leave the dealership.
  • Good publicity: A dealership that offers plug-in loaner cars is making a very public statement about its support for plug-in cars. If it’s good enough for the dealership, it’s good enough for its customers, right?
  • Conquests of Internal Combustion Drivers: Want to sell more plug-in cars to folks who are traditionally tough to get behind the wheel? Give them a plug-in courtesy car when their gasoline car is in for service and let them experience plug-in vehicles without a salesperson beside them.
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Despite the benefits to customers and dealership alike, the majority of dealerships still don’t offer plug-in customers a guaranteed plug-in loaner when their car is in the shop. Some feel the cost of buying a plug-in car to use as a loaner car is too high. Others believe customers who aren’t plug-in fans will refuse to use them.

That's a short-term way of looking at a long-term transition to electrified transportation. Dealers take notice: The availability of a plug-in loaner—along with service quality and pricing—could make the difference between retaining your plug-in customer or losing them to a rival dealership.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.