The first-ever multi-state study of the electric vehicle (EV) shopping experience by the Sierra Club reveals there’s room for improvement to make it easier for consumers to shop for the EV they want.
Rev Up EVs was launched, in part, to find out why, despite the fact that there are about 30 plug-in electric vehicles available from multiple automakers, sales of EVs represent only one percent of total monthly car sales in the U.S.
To conduct the survey, Sierra Club volunteers called or visited 308 car dealerships across 10 states with the purpose of checking out and test driving EVs.
“While automakers may claim their low electric vehicle sales are a result of low demand, the Rev Up EVs report shows automakers and dealerships often aren’t doing their part to sell them,” said Gina Coplon-Newfield, the Sierra Club’s Electric Vehicles Initiative director and co-author of the report.
“While some of our Rev Up EVs survey participants found dealerships are employing impressive best practices to sell a lot of EVs, many encountered roadblock after roadblock in their search for EV inventory, test drives, and knowledgeable salespeople.”
Here’s a comment from one of the volunteers who visited a Volkswagen dealership in California: “I called the dealership and said I’d like to test drive an EV. They said they had several. A few hours later, I received an email stating they had no EVs on the lot and I’d have to visit the Bay Area to find any.” — Sally E.
Clearly, there’s work to be done.
Among the report’s findings:
- Nearly half the time, volunteers found that EVs were not prominently displayed, and were difficult to find on the lot.
- 33 percent of the time, volunteers said that sales personnel failed to inform them of available federal and state incentives that would lower the cost of an EV purchase. States with personnel knowledgeable about the EV incentives included Oregon first, followed by California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland and New York.
- In some instances, the volunteers weren’t able to test drive an EV because it hadn’t been charged. This happened 14 percent of the time.
- Of the dealerships with at least one EV on the lot, only about 50 percent of the sales personnel spoke with them about how to fuel the EV while traveling.
To gain some perspective on this survey, as well as ask a few pertinent questions about EVs in general, iSeeCars.com spoke with Gina Coplon-Newfield, director of Sierra Club’s Electric Vehicles Initiative.
With gas prices remaining so low, what’s the incentive for consumers to consider a fully electric or plug-in hybrid?
First of all, electricity is the equivalent of about $1.25 per gallon, still much cheaper to fuel a vehicle with electricity than with gasoline. Second of all, a plug-in vehicle is much lower in emissions, even factoring in the emissions from the electricity used to charge them -so people can feel good about switching to a car that is better for our climate and our air quality. Thirdly, EVs are fun to drive -great torque, high-tech, and fast acceleration!
One drawback in many people’s minds is the cost of electricity to recharge vehicles. Electrical costs keep going up and there seems to be no end in sight. What consumers would save in terms of gasoline costs, they’d more than eat up with higher electricity bills. How do you counter this?
Actually, gasoline costs have been much more volatile over the years than the more stable electricity costs. Yes, gasoline prices have come down in the last year, but most experts assert gas prices will surely rise again. It’s just a matter of time. Electricity prices may be rising incrementally, but overall, it’s a more stable fuel cost. See this chart:
What about making the point about energy independence? That seems to resonate. Why not use this approach?
For many people, particularly those who have served in the military, shifting to vehicles that do not rely on oil is a powerful way we can increase U.S. energy independence. Sierra Club is an environmental group, so we focus our messaging on areas in which we are seen as most credible, in this case, the climate and clean air health benefits of switching to cleaner forms of transportation. But we have a strong appreciation for those who switch to EVs for other compelling reasons too.
Even BMW is veering away from electrical vehicles to a certain extent, realigning their focus more on self-driving vehicles by 2021. Care to comment about this?
Actually, we see this investment in electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles by BMW and other automakers as linked. Most car companies are planning for their autonomous models to be fully or partially electric. For BMW, it has announced plans to accelerate its investments in EVs. This is for good reason. In July of this year, the i3 sales in the U.S. grew by 58 percent compared to a year earlier.
Other than Tesla, how can EVs be considered sexy, cool, “The” vehicle to buy/lease?
The Tesla cars have been arguably the sexiest, coolest cars ever made. But there are more than 25 plug-in models for sale in the US at various price points.
Obviously, “cool” is in the eye of the beholder. My kids think it’s pretty cool that they now get to ride around in a zippy Nissan Leaf that’s better for the environment than our previous cars. My cousin in Oakland, CA thinks his BMW i3 is the coolest car he has ever driven right past the gas station.
And if you ever get cornered by a Chevy Volt driver at a party, you’ll be hearing all night how cool the car is. There are lots of good plug-in car options that we feature at www.sierraclub.org/evguide.