Nissan Dealers Join Chevy in Price Gouging for Electric Cars

By · March 21, 2011

Nissan LEAF

The laws of supply and demand are in full force when it comes to electric cars—and no automobile brand will be spared. Since last August, months before the first production cars rolled off the line, we've been hearing about outrageous dealer premiums, between $5,000 and $20,000, getting added to the Chevy Volt. With gas prices on the rise, and bad news about the effects of the earthquake in Japan on car production, Nissan dealers are also taking advantage of the situation.

“Gouging is alive and well, and will be increasing as the Leaf arrives in the U.S.,” posted Laura in Marin, a user on PluginCars.com. In the past few days, she called more than 15 Nissan dealers throughout Northern California, hoping to find a LEAF that had been pre-ordered but not claimed. Laura thought she had found one at Nissan Santa Cruz—that is, if she was willing to rush to the dealership and pay $5,000 above MSRP. A few hours later, she was told the car was already leased to another customer. “They are promoting bidding wars, and they have no concept of customer service.”

Nissan and General Motors spokespersons have both said their companies are discouraging dealers from charging above MSRP—but ultimately don't have control over the final price. Nissan customers who pre-ordered a LEAF are able to lock in a price with a refundable $99 deposit. The price gouging on the LEAF occurs when those cars are delivered to a dealership, but the customer decides not to complete the transaction.

Reports of premiums of $5,000 or more on Chevy Volts have been reported in the San Francisco Bay area and in Houston. A few weeks ago, Motor Trend reported that a Florida Chevy dealership wanted $65,590 for a Volt, and Automotive News said that an L.A. man refused to pay a $5,000 premium on a Volt and decided to get on the LEAF waiting list instead.

Yet, as indicted by Laura's experience, Nissan LEAF dealers and sales staff are not immune to hiking up the price. In fact, Paul Scott, a long-time advocate of electric cars and a salesperson at Nissan Santa Monica told PluginCars.com in January: “We're going to sell [the LEAF] to whoever pays the most for it. We have a long list of people willing to pay way over MSRP.” At that point, he said high demand will continue and grow when gas makes its inevitable climb back to $4 a gallon and higher.

Paul was right about gas prices. The U.S. Department of Energy reported today that the average price of regular gasoline in California—the biggest market for electric cars—is $3.96. While most consumers consider $4 gas to be gouging, owners of gas-powered cars have no choice but to pay through the nose and keep on paying. Meanwhile, shoppers of electric cars can take comfort in two things: If you're willing to make enough calls and wait a little while, then it's very likely that you'll find a LEAF at MSRP. And after the purchase is made—even if a dealership overcharges—OPEC and Big Oil will no longer have you over a barrel.

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