Consumer Reports: In General, Dealerships Lack Plug In Vehicle Knowledge, But Only a Fraction Of Dealers Discourage EV Sales


Some Dealers Get It - Like This One Who Displays The Chevy Volt Prominently

Some Dealers Get It – Like This One Who Displays The Chevy Volt Prominently

Recently, Consumer Reports set out on a seemingly simple mission.  The goal was to evaluate various dealerships on how well they’re acquainted with electric vehicles and on how willing/motivated they are to sell plug in vehicle.

Consumer Reports stated:

“You would think that if you were to go to a car dealership that sold electric cars, a salesperson would want to sell you one. But that that’s true only some of the time, a months-long survey by Consumer Reports reveals. And that’s the case with some brands more than others.”

As always, Consumer Reports does not disclose its identity to dealerships when conducting automotive investigation of this nature.

Below, Consumer Reports describes both the trigger for this investigation and the process in which it obtained the information:

“After several consumers who wanted to buy a plug-in car reported to us that some dealerships were steering them toward gas-powered models, we decided to see how salespeople answered their questions about electric cars and whether they were encouraged to buy an EV or directed toward other models. In total, 19 secret shoppers went to 85 dealerships in four states, making their anonymous visits between December 2013 and March 2014.”

“We also had our shoppers record the number of plug-in vehicles each dealership had in stock and which models to see whether salespeople were just trying to sell what they had available on the lot.”

“To gauge the salespeople’s knowledge about electric cars, our secret shoppers asked a number of specific questions about the vehicles. Questions covered tax breaks and other incentives, vehicle charge time, cost, and options, vehicle range, and battery life and warranty. They also asked the salespeople whether they recommended buying or leasing.”

Let’s now take a look at some of the findings, as detailed by Consumer Reports:

Prius Plug-In Hybrid

Prius Plug-In Hybrid

  • We found that whether salespeople encourage the sale of an electric car or discourage shoppers from buying one seems to have as much to do with their knowledge about plug-in cars as with the number the dealership has in stock.
  • Overall, many dealership salespeople were not as knowledgeable about electric cars as you might expect.
  • Many seemed not to have a good understanding of electric-car tax breaks and other incentives or of charging needs and costs.
  • When it came to answering basic questions, we found that salespeople at Chevrolet, Ford, and Nissan dealerships tended to be better informed than those at Honda and Toyota, with a notable distinction between Chevrolet and Toyota.
  • Toyota salespeople, especially, were more likely to discourage the sale of plug-in models

That’s the more general overview of the secret shoppers found.  Here are some specific details that truly irk usL

  • A sales manager at Manhattan Ford in New York City, the only Ford dealership actually owned by the automaker, at first denied there was a Focus EV, and then said it couldn’t be leased. Both statements are incorrect.
  • When asked about a Prius Plug-in, a salesperson at Star Toyota Scion of Bayside, N.Y., would not even show our shopper the car, despite having one in stock.
  • Most of the Toyota dealerships we visited recommended against buying a Prius Plug-in and suggested buying a standard Prius hybrid instead.

And now for the conclusion, as told by Consumer Reports:

Nissan LEAF

Nissan LEAF

“Overall, our secret shoppers reported that only 13 dealers “discouraged sale of EV,” with seven of them being in New York. Most of those stores had little to no inventory. However, at 35 of the 85 dealerships they visited, our shoppers said salespeople recommended buying a gas-powered car instead. Besides the standard Prius, a few of these cases seemed like reasonable advice. For example, one salesperson suggested a Nissan SUV instead of a LEAF when our shopper told him she had a commute that would stretch the LEAF’s range.”

“In the end, most salespeople seemed to have the consumer’s interest at heart, though a few were clearly not interested selling a plug-in car they knew little about. Still, even at the least knowledgeable dealership visited for this project, our secret shopper said they felt positive about the experience overall.”

We highly recommend you check out the full Consumer Reports’ story titled “Dealers not always plugged in about electric cars, Consumer Reports’ study reveals” by clicking here.

Source: Consumer Reports

Categories: General


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18 Comments on "Consumer Reports: In General, Dealerships Lack Plug In Vehicle Knowledge, But Only a Fraction Of Dealers Discourage EV Sales"

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Musk is right to bypass dealers.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

For the plugin Prius, Freakonomics would probably say that the ratio of time spent educating and demoing the plugin, discussing tax benefits, payback times, etc. vs. the incremental salesman benefit between non-plugin and plugin is very low if not negative.

If a salesman receives more compensation per timeslice of customer interaction from non-electrified vehicles than they do from electrified vehicles, then which will they prefer?


Hell! That thumbnail, I just got really excited for a moment.


I looked at the Volt a few times. The first time the salesman tried to steer me to another vehicle. I think he probably thought I could not afford it. I don’t look like I can afford much.
The second time they had one on the lot, went for a test drive, and it was ok, though they did not try to steer me to a different vehicle they did not know much about the vehicle.
I once went to a Ford dealership and asked about a Focus ev, they said no such animal.
I took them to the website and showed them that it did indeed exist. Of course this was the early stages of it’s release.


It’ll just take time. Eventually, it won’t take more effort to sell – people will know how an EV works. Imagine if car dealers had to explain how to put gas in a ICE car, how it needs regular oil and filter changes, concerns with the transmission and timing belt and spark plugs and … point to be made, EVs are new to people.


“usL”? Author? Oh.

My experience at the Mitsubishi dealer was very easy. They scheduled a time for me to come in and talk with an EV-trained salesperson. They had one at this dealership, out of about 8 salespeople.

I believe this CR report showed people just walking into the dealership without calling first or communicating with their Internet salesperson.

scott franco

So? Thats realistic. Calling ahead for an “EV specialist” is not.


If your job is a salespeople in a dealership you must know all the products that you sell. Every sales representative should know about EVs, how hard it can be and the end the average buyer is not as sophisticated as the people of this forum.


Had to take our Leaf in for the recall notice yesterday (airbag sensor) and it’s a joint BMW/Nissan dealership. On my way to the lobby, I saw they had an i3 sitting there right in front of the showroom windows.

So I walked around it a few times since I’d never seen one in person. It was locked, but I did try to the open door.

Now, do that on any other car in the lot, in front of the glass where they’re watching you, and you get pounced on.

But no salesperson even approached me…….

See Through

It depends on the inventory though. i3 are limited in number. Also most likely, the dealership has 1 or 2 trained specialists to sell i3. Not everyone in the dealership knows all the details of i3.
Moreover, the i3 shopper is probably already well educated about EV and i3. And they probably knew you were there for service, not purchase.

At the end, your impression often depends on how you see it.

See Through

This has been my experience too. It also depends on the area. In California, particularly San Francisco area, dealerships have few specialized sales people dealing with EV and other plug-ins and they are bit more knowledgeable. But I didn’t see anyone discourage me from buying a Leaf, Volt or Spark.
Of course, if they didn’t have a stock, they would have diverted me to the cars they have, or where profit is high.

Thomas J. Thias

See Trough-

Electric Fueled Vehicle Urban Legend #23-
No Mark-Up In EVs-

You said, “~Of course, if they didn’t have a stock,(sic), they would have diverted me to the cars they have, or where profit is high.”


The normal spreads between the M.S.R.P. (Manufactures Suggested Retail Price) and the invoice are no different for Electric Fueled Vehicles then for gas cars of the same money.

Any Fed tax credit is based on Traction Battery size and the buyers own tax claim status and has no bearing on dealer or sales staff income.

When leasing, the Fed tax credit is claimed by the Lessor, reducing lease payment, per Fed law, based on Traction Battery size as prescribed by Fed law and has zero effect on dealer bottom line except for volume comps awarded Quarterly as in any other new car sale.


Thomas J. Thias

Sundance Chevrolet Inc.



What’s really disappointing about this is that there’s nothing complicated at all about plug-in vehicles and very few important facts that need to be remembered.

Even if they don’t know any every little bit of information it should be a matter of seconds to look it up on a cheat sheet, or maybe even *gasp* a computer.


I think that the prospective EV buyers ask *different* questions than prospective ICE buyers. People looking at a 5L Ford Mustang aren’t going to ask silly questions about mileage or range and how long it takes to fill up. Potential minivan owners aren’t going to ask if it comes as a convertable or what it’s 0-60 time is.

Jeff D

Totally agree. If you actually want someone to sell a product they need to know about what they’re selling. Unfortunately, I have discovered that at many dealerships, they hardly know enough about their ICE vehicles much less their EVs. And they wonder why people don’t like going to dealerships.


Agree too. I have engineering degrees, and in 2014 I STILL get “Honey (insert insultingly basic fact here)”. Last visit to a dealer I asked about charging time and whether it was fitted with a ~3 or ~6kw module and instead I got the lecture on how great the lighted visor mirror on the gas car in the showroom was. Seriously? Sale lost.


BMW is doing the best they can but suffering some of the same issues Nissan stores did during the leaf rollout. they dont get trained much on the EV products. As BMW has a whole brand in the i brand they really need to work harder!

Lou Grinzo

I had very mixed results when shopping for a Leaf about 15 months ago. Two of the four local Nissan dealers were beyond clueless regarding the car, EVs, etc. It was a very bad joke.

One was very enthusiastic about the car, but the salesman got a lot of details wrong, had to keep looking things up and asking other salespeople for help, and generally didn’t make me want to buy from them.

The last was pretty much up to speed, but the salesman is primarily their commercial truck guy(!?), so we had some awkward conversations, to say the least, but he did better than the guy at dealer three.

We leased a Leaf from the last dealership, but the sales support, plus service (e.g. they offered me a free oil change) was still short of what one would hope for from a business selling vehicles from a major brand.