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How Local Dealerships Are Leading the EV Future

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Electric vehicles are here, and America’s vast franchised dealer network is eager, excited and essential to the successful deployment of EVs to the mass market.

“As a Nevada auto dealer who has been in the business for 42 years, I can assure you that my colleagues and I are just as excited to sell electric vehicles as gas-powered cars—if not more so,” said Don Hamrick of Chapman Automotive Group and Chapman Las Vegas Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram.

To show their commitment to the future, dealers across the country are making big investments to improve the purchasing experience and reduce barriers to EV ownership. Take a look at just a handful of the ways dealers are driving the mass-market adoption of EVs.

Getting Charged Up

Dealerships across the country are investing in both traditional charging stations and super-fast Level 3 DC Fast Chargers (DCFCs). Installing this EV infrastructure is no small investment; some dealers are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure they are ready for the EV future.

In addition to charging stations for their own use, some dealerships, such as Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC in Boardman, Ohio, have installed additional charging stations for public use.

Preparing for Greater Utility Needs

Dealers are also preparing for the greater electricity that will be needed to charge these new vehicles. One strategy is installing solar panels that will help provide the necessary energy to charge the dealership’s EV inventory as well as customer-owned vehicles.

“Self-generated onsite electricity makes perfect financial and operational sense for onsite electricity distribution or EV charging. Dealers understand the need for this preemptive investment and are installing solar panels in record numbers,” said Ryan Ferrero, national EV infrastructure manager, SunPower by Freedom Solar.

Ensuring EV-Trained Sales and Service Workforce

Since the first EVs reached stores in the mid-2000s, dealership employees have increasingly gotten up to speed and are now the EV experts in their communities, best positioned to educate customers on the latest EV technologies, guide them through the myriad state, local and federal incentives, and direct new EV owners to their closest charging stations.

“The biggest value add that we can be as a dealer is to be the experts in knowing all of the functionality and how it interacts with the consumer,” Jeff Laethem, owner of Ray Laethem Buick GMC, Detroit, told The Detroit News. “More than ever, we’re going to have to be the subject matter experts, because so much of this from a technology side is going to be pretty new to our customers.”

Dealers are not only sending their employees to OEM-sponsored training programs, such as BMW’s technician training centers in Spartanburg, S.C., and Atlanta, but also investing in their own in-house training programs.

First-Hand Ownership

To ensure that they can speak to the ownership experience of an EV, many dealers are adopting EVs as their primary personal vehicle.

“Immersion is key to mass-market EV adoption,” said Geoff Pohanka, president of Pohanka Automotive Group in Capitol Heights, Md. Pohanka has a charging station at his home and has owned several EVs from various manufacturers, which have served as his primary transportation.

“To fully understand the technology, you have to get behind the wheel and fully immerse yourself,” added Pohanka. “By doing so, you can understand what EVs are all about and educate both your staff and your customers with a full picture of the EV ownership experience.”

Getting Consumers Comfortable with EVs

Given the power of auto shows to build awareness and excitement, dealers understand that getting customers behind the wheel—whether in the dealership or at an outside event—is key to amplifying mass-market adoption of EVs across the country. Dealers are ready and armed to answer consumer questions about EVs and advise them about the ownership experience, including what they will need in their homes to charge their vehicle and how EV care varies from a traditional ICE vehicle.

Some dealers are even hosting EV showcase events that allow customers to experience EVs firsthand in a low-pressure environment. John Luciano of Street Volkswagen in Amarillo, Texas, has hosted several ride-and-drive events to allow customers to get behind the wheel of new EVs, including in early June, when Luciano had four dealership-owned vehicles outside of the Coors Cowboy Club Ranch Rodeo for attendees to take for a spin.

In Connecticut, Mercedes Benz of New London President Jeff Aiosa has seeded alternative-powered vehicles into his loaner fleet. “By peppering these vehicles into our fleet of loaner vehicles, we can start getting consumers more comfortable with these vehicles and introduce customers to change,” said Aiosa.

The future is here, and America’s franchised dealers are more than ready for it.

“Franchised dealers with EVs in their lineups have been making these same commitments and investments for years, and not reluctantly,” NADA President and CEO Mike Stanton wrote in a blog post. “They have done so because they don’t want to lose sales to other brands as more and better EVs—and more EV customers—come to the market.”

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