How Can Automakers Sell More Electric Cars? Sierra Club Has Ideas

2016 Nissan Leaf

2016 Nissan Leaf | Source: Nissan

The Sierra Club recently released what it says is the “first-ever multi-state study on electric vehicle shopping experience,” and the results weren’t encouraging.

A report surveying 308 volunteers who inquired about electric cars in calls or visits to dealerships in 10 states showed that shopping for an electric car is generally more difficult than shopping for a gasoline or diesel car.

The Sierra Club concluded that automakers and dealers have significant room for improvement when it comes to selling electric cars.

VW e-Golf

Source: Volkswagen

But the group didn’t just criticize what it determined to be unsatisfactory sales practices.

The full report (PDF) also includes a list of recommendations for automakers, dealers, and policymakers to address the issues cited by survey respondents.

One of the major issues cited in the report was lack of electric-car inventory at dealerships.

To that end, the Sierra Club’s recommendations for carmakers include providing larger volumes of electric cars to dealerships at more attractive prices—and placing them in more states than simply California.

Automakers should also simplify the process for certifying dealers to sell electric cars, and they should provide both charging stations and detailed information on federal and also state incentives, the group said.

Most automakers now require the dealerships that sell electric cars to install charging stations, but that doesn’t include of rest of the dealers in a given state or region.

The report also calls on automakers to “significantly increase” electric-car advertising nationwide.

Tesla

Source: Tesla

This has been an issue for automakers since the first modern electric cars went on sale in large numbers, many do not promote electric cars as aggressively or as visibly as other models.

Still, if automakers more actively promote electric cars and drive more shoppers into showrooms, dealers still need to be committed to selling them.

Electric cars should be displayed more prominently, the Sierra Club says, suggesting they be placed “under special canopies” or located in showrooms rather than buried somewhere deep on the lot.

Volunteers found that many salespeople weren’t very knowledgeable about electric cars, so the report recommends emphasizing training—including designating certain staff members as electric-car specialists.

Ford focus electric

Ford Focus Electric | Source: Ford

Dealers could also work with local electric-car advocacy groups to coordinate test drives and educational initiatives, the report suggests.

Finally, the Sierra Club report encourages state lawmakers to stimulate demand for electric cars through robust incentive programs, as well as programs aimed at getting businesses and municipalities to convert their fleets to electric cars.

In particular, the group urges the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to strengthen its current zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) standards, which already include a mandate that certain carmakers in California sell ZEVs.

Those standards are up for mid-term review this year, with a report from CARB staff on their effectiveness thus far due around December.

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