How does the EV buying process compare to what car buyers are used to?

EDITOR'S NOTE: John Rooney is the co-founder of Elevation Proving Grounds (EPG), a company that helps electric and autonomous vehicle companies build better automotive technology through vehicle testing, staffing, and training. You can learn more about EPG and contact us at EPGAmerica.com.

We’re all used to the process of purchasing a car from a dealership. Maybe you search online beforehand and narrow down the selection. Once you find a vehicle you like, you head to the dealership to check it out in person. Within seconds of setting foot on the property, you are greeted by someone and begin the typical song and dance of purchasing a car. Maybe all you want to do is test drive the car, but it still comes with a calculated process. I wanted to test drive a particular new electric vehicle (EV), and so I documented what it was like in today’s world.

“Come on in and have a seat.” “Would you like a beverage or perhaps a snack?” “What is your price range?” “Are you looking to pay cash or finance?” “What kind of car do you have now?” “Were you looking to trade in your current vehicle?” Phrases that you used to hear until you finally handed over your driver’s license, signed a waiver, and then they would bring the car around to you. You get in the driver’s seat, your significant other in the passenger seat, and the salesperson in the back seat. You go for a 15-20 minute test drive where the salesperson is going through the features of the vehicle and you try your best to determine if this is the car for you in that short period. You get back to the dealership and that’s when they try to close the deal. Maybe they bring the manager over to greet you. Maybe they try to convince you to look at another vehicle. There is a lot of pressure and it’s not always the most pleasant experience.

Then COVID-19 came along and created social distancing. There have been many negatives that have come with COVID, but let's talk about one of the positives, test driving a car. This past weekend, I experienced firsthand what it is like to test drive an EV in this environment, and maybe perhaps what test driving and buying will be like going forward.

It all started with going to the OEMs website and following the prompts for how to set up a test drive. I filled out my desired day and time and then waited. A few days later, a representative from the dealership reached out to finalize the appointment. After that, they requested an e-signature on a short one-page release form and an electronic copy of my driver’s license. I was good to go for the test drive on Saturday.

The weekend came and my brother and I headed to the dealership for a test drive at 1:00 pm. When we arrived, we walked up to the building with our masks on. We waited for a representative to exit the building to greet us. Meanwhile, a family with masks was preparing for a test drive as well. They were about to get into one of the vehicles when someone from the dealership came hurrying out to tell them that that specific car had not been sanitized from the previous test drive. They then sanitized the vehicle and the family was off. A scene that was a bit surreal to see play out, but one that is all too common today.

Matt, our representative, greeted us outside, gave us some instructions, and said “the key is in the car” as he sent us off by ourselves. The test drive was supposed to only be one hour, but the representative offered up that there was some flexibility to this and we didn’t argue. We had the freedom of testing out the capabilities and features of the EV with no pressure from a salesperson. It allowed us to test out what was important to us: performance, handling, and the advanced technological features of this specific EV. It was great.

After about 1.5 hours on the road, we received a text from Matt that it was time to head back. We pulled into the dealership 30 minutes later, parked the EV, and then headed to our personal cars. Matt met us as we walked away and we thought we were about to get the full-court press on buying the car. That didn’t happen, he just wanted to ask how it was and see if we had any additional questions. We chatted for a bit at a distance and then headed out, seriously contemplating our next vehicle purchase.

I, like many people, don’t like the stress of the typical sales process at a car dealership. This was different, this was an enjoyable and fun experience. I hope that dealerships take note and make this part of their sales process when we get past this pandemic. I am strongly considering the purchase of this specific EV and actually looking forward to my next dealership experience.