Study: Dealerships Need To Be More Informed About Electric Cars

By · April 24, 2014

Shopping for an electric car

Motivated EV shoppers can show up at a dealership ready to buy a plug-in car, but the deal won’t be closed unless the sales staff is there to help.

Between December 2013 and March 2014, Consumer Reports sent 19 “secret” shoppers to buy a plug-in vehicle at 85 different dealerships in four states. They discovered that many auto salespeople lacked knowledge and/or interest in selling an electric car. CR gives this advice to plug-in car shoppers: “Do your homework and don’t rely on the dealership for education about this intriguing technology.” The visit to the dealership should only provide hands-on validation for buying decisions already made by shoppers.

Examples of buyers being misled:

  • A salesperson at Culver City Toyota in California said the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid required a battery replacement “every couple of years.”
  • A sales manager at Manhattan Ford in New York City denied there was a Ford Focus Electric, and then said it couldn’t be leased.
  • A salesperson at Star Toyota Scion of Bayside, N.Y., would not show a Plug-in Prius that was in stock.

Sales staff with least amount of information about plug-in cars were the most likely to discourage shoppers from buying one, according to the study. Salespeople at Chevrolet, Ford, and Nissan dealerships were generally more informed than those at Honda and Toyota dealerships. In particular, Toyota salespeople were more likely to discourage the sale of plug-in models and less likely to give accurate or specific answers to basic questions.

In many cases, dealership selection was very limited. Most dealerships only had one ore two plug-in vehicles available. Only 15 of the 85 dealers had more than 10 to select. Buyers in California are more likely to have greater selection, while dealers in Maryland and New York had the fewest plug-ins to offer. And dealers in New York were the most likely to discourage sales of EVs.

Despite these problems, the shoppers sent out by Consumer Reports felt the experience was generally positive—with the best experiences taking place at dealerships where sales staff was the most informed about EV issues, including incentives, charging times, cost, vehicle range, and battery life.

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.