Op-Ed: Is the US Dealership Sales Force Prepared To Sell EVs?


Well that is the question that Elon Musk is wagering. Almost everyone in the EV community would argue that Musk is right. Auto dealers will argue that the customer needs protection. The premise of this article is to ask if there are equal possibilities for that protection on both sides, in other words is Elon Musk correct? There are many tales of not what can go wrong but what did go wrong in the sales process.

Tesla's Dealership In Massachusetts Which Opened In September Amidst Dealer Association Protests, Remains Open Today

Tesla’s Dealership In Massachusetts Which Opened In September Amidst Dealer Association Protests, Remains Open Today

Truth sometimes stranger than fiction

I will kick this off with my personal experience of why Mr. Musk and Tesla Motors might be correct in their assessment of selling EVs direct in NC. I reside in NC and could not wait to join the EV revolution.

I decided to purchase a Chevy Volt as soon as it was available and followed the delivery schedules closely. I kept in regular contact with my local dealership on their delivery. Upon receiving their first Volt allocation I called to place my order at MSRP. The salesman said that he could not sale the car to me. I insisted on speaking to the manager and was given the same story.

When I asked how much over MSRP it was going to cost me he told me that he could not say. To that I replied “Let me get this straight, not only will you not sell me a Volt at MSRP, you actually refuse to sell me the car at all?”  The manager replied that since they had only received one Volt he just wanted to hold on awhile to find out what the market would bear. Wow!   

Not all dealerships are dirty

I immediately called one of the larger GM dealers in the state and asked if they would sell me a Volt at MSRP to which they replied “of course,” and I made my purchase. I would like to add that in my 18 months of ownership of my Volt my service experience on a scale of 1 to 10  has been a perfect 10.  I personally feel that Tesla will have a difficult time matching the quality of service available today through dealerships, but as a North Carolinian I feel Tesla has the American right to prove it! I must add that I knew more about the Volt than the salesman which puts the EV at an unfair advantage as Tesla suggests. This is my own personal experience with purchasing my first EV.


Just the fact mam

Just the facts mam

So are there tales to be told of both good and bad EV sales experiences? How many salespersons were up to speed on EVs? Did you know more than the salesperson? Did they show you things you were not aware of? Could they explain true cost of ownership?  Did they try and talk you into an ICE? Was their EV prominently displayed? Is Tesla Motors warranted in their argument? No name calling please and just the facts. 

Category: GeneralTesla


20 responses to "Op-Ed: Is the US Dealership Sales Force Prepared To Sell EVs?"
  1. John Hollenberg says:

    Error in title: should be “sell EVs”, not “sale EVs”… unless of course you are referring to whether they are ready to put them on sale at a price below MSRP 🙂

    1. Jay Cole says:

      Fortunately, I am omnipresent on the site and never require sleep…so I can fix that straight away, lol.

      /thanks John

      1. Aaron says:

        It sounds right if you have a strong southern drawl… 🙂

        1. kdawg says:

          “The salesman said that he could not sale the car to me.”

          same problem

        2. Mark Hovis says:

          Easy!! Did you not read the name calling disclaimer? =) Good one though…

    2. Jim Thibodeau says:

      My volt experience was not unique either. I went to a Chevy dealership in Woonsocket, RI and was greeted by the owner. He said quite matter of factly that I would never ever get the $7000 rebate. “No one does” is what he said or something close to that.

      He showed no interest in showing, demonstrating or selling a volt. I’m not surprised if that is the prevailing attitude, that sales are doing as poorly as they are.

      I do believe there is a price premium for the Volt but hey, whatever happened to at least try to get in step with the customer. I gave ever indication I really wanted to buy a volt and left thinking I would never buy ANY car from that place.

  2. Open-Mind says:

    I haven’t purchased an EV yet, but I can say that the prices seem best near the big cities. For example, near Chicago, high-end Volts are advertised on AutoTrader about $7.5K below MSRP. A hundred miles farther from Chicago, the best you’ll see is about $4.5K below MSRP.

    I’d be happy to drive an extra hundred miles to save $3K.

    1. ARVolt says:

      I drove nearly 400 miles to get my Volt. True they were not being sold in AR in mid 2011, but I paid less than invoice for my Volt. In Arkansas, it was not until March 2012 that Volts were found under MSRP.

  3. Ambulator says:

    I asked for a Volt, I was shown a Volt and I bought a Volt. No effort was made to sell me something else. A Volt was on display in the showroom, although I didn’t see it until I went in to fill out the paperwork. I did have to pay MSRP, though.

    (You could use some proof reading. In the headline it should say “prepare to sell EVs”. Also, it is “market would bear”, not “bare”. Wagering is not something you usually do with a question, either.)

  4. Priusmaniac says:

    Back in 2000 when I stubbornly wanted my first Prius, the Toyota dealer told me “you know it is only a 1500 cc”, proving he didn’t get the interest of the whole system, but I got it as I wanted.

  5. Martin T says:

    Mine was great,
    However what I see elsewhere – It depends on the particular sales guy.

    A worrying trend is sales people selling bananas one week, next week fridges and appliances and then new ev cars.
    This wouldn’t be a problem if they at least took some interest in the product they are selling and took the time to learn about the best fit for a customer needs.

    I’m afraid in Non EV only dealerships, sales people gravitate to the easier sell – which is usually not the EV. & That’s sad!

    That’s why Tesla way of selling is a more positive and productive approach vs the get them in to see a Volt and then slip them over into a Cruze = naughty lazy sales people.

  6. Malcolm Scott says:

    At the time I liked the go to market strategy of this dealer:


    Was it a marketing puff piece and the sales were really the result of a natural competitive advantage of the location, or instead did they have a specific strategy that has sustained excellent sales to this day?

    1. Mark H says:

      Excellent link Malcolm. I will add the link to the body of the article. Clearly the link shows some dealers are stepping up. My beef is with something fairly unique to the US auto industry and that is legislation dictating how a consumer is allowed to purchase a product. If you have not been following the story, here is what is being proposed in North Carolina.

      According to the legislation, original equipment makers can not “use a computer or other communications facilities, hardware, or equipment” to sell vehicles in the future. No sales by phone, no internet sales. I will say it again, no internet sales. To the modern American nothing could be more absurd.

      Why the law exists in the first place
      The laws were put into place to protect dealerships from being underbid by the manufacturer they represented. There is an important distinction here that has nothing to do with EVs. Tesla has NO distribution world wide.

      I retired from the machine tool industry. The machine tool industry constantly changed from direct sales to distribution and back again. In my career I worked for both the manufacturer and the distributor and was proud of the service provided in both arenas. Now the automotive dealerships would be justified to keep a manufacturer from competing against themselves but other industries have survived without legislation. E-bay has been able to sell autos without legislation to protect the customer.

      My premise is not to dog on all dealerships but to simply point out that they can cause as much harm as any other method. I must agree totally with Elon Musk that forcing the American public to one method is certainly some perverse sense of democracy

  7. GeorgeS says:

    Here’s the answers. My purchase was thru Chapman Tempe, AZ:

    “How many salespersons were up to speed on EVs?”

    –I dealt thru the internet sales manager and her assistant. I never just walk in the front door. The 2 I dealt with were pretty decent….and somewhat knowlegable

    “Did you know more than the salesperson?”

    “Did they show you things you were not aware of?”

    —-yes. she had a class on the Volt and knew where the buttons were and I didn’t

    “Could they explain true cost of ownership?”

    —-the subject was never brought up, so I don’t know,

    “Did they try and talk you into an ICE? ”


    “Was their EV prominently displayed?”

    –no, the first time they brought one out it was unwashed and uncharged.

    ” Is Tesla Motors warranted in their argument?”


  8. GeorgeS says:

    Good article Mark.

    I don’t know what the earlier posters are talking about relative to grammar and spelling.

    Maybe there’s some “behind the scenes guy” that stays up all night fixing small errors.


    1. Mark H says:

      I am an engineer, not a writer. You get what you get sometimes. Something I particularly like about this site is that most are more interested in the information than the grammar, still I take no offense from those who point out the obvious. George, I saw you posted a story on another article pertaining to this challenge that Elon has made. Care to elaborate on it a little more here?

  9. Aaron says:

    When I picked up my i-MiEV, the salesperson started right off with all the disadvantages of EVs. While this is the right way to go — to let people know the limitations — it could also turn off people from EVs.

    Once he knew that I understood the limitations and that my lifestyle and driving distance was perfect for an EV, he had no problem selling me one. The salesperson was very forthcoming and knowledgeable, making my trust in him and his ability to sell EVs strong.

    Of note, only one salesperson was “certified” to sell the i-MiEV. I think that might be what Elon’s getting at. By having one person be the point of contact, versus another 5-10 other salespeople who aren’t trained, the EV has no chance of selling at the same rates that ICE vehicles do.

  10. James says:

    Chalk me up to two horrible experiences and two mediocre ones. We looked for an orphaned Leaf pretty soon after they were out. The first dealer wanted $10K over invoice, which was nuts, and that car sat on the lot for months. The next experience was okay, and Nissan does, or did, at least, have a Leaf specialist. Did the specialist know as much about the car or EV’s in general, no, but I think most of us early adopters were pretty educated. So Leaf purchase was typical dealer BS, but went as well as you could expect a car deal going.

    Next, I was going to lease a Volt. Looked around, got a quote from every dealer in Phoenix through email before I ever stepped foot on a lot. I had test driven one at an event, so all I wanted was paperwork drawn up and walk out the door. Of course, the numbers were all wrong when I got there, my payments $50/mo higher than they were supposed to be, and I spent four hours at the dealer getting it all fixed. Plus, they knew less than nothing about the Volt, and it was painfully obvious that they wanted to be selling Corvettes to middle-aged guys whose Hummers were now showing their age. The car wasn’t charged, of course, even though they had two days to get it ready, and almost all of the 500 miles on the ODO were gas miles. Chevy is a company that has been selling conservative cars for generations, so it’s no surprise that a lot of dealers would almost rather not sell them and prove they are a failure.

    My last deal was buying a RAV4EV from California and having it shipped. Again, the staff knew almost nothing about the car, but at least it’s a compliance car, and at least they would rather be selling Priuses and have some history of selling efficient cars. I asked them not to ship the car fully charged, and thankfully it charges to 80% by default, otherwise it would have been charged to 100%.

    Musk is 100% right that normal dealers will do a poor job of selling electric cars if they have gas cars on the lot, unless all of them are driving an EV demo and actually learn about the vehicles and learn to love them. Why anyone is protecting the old model of selling cars is a mystery, since we’ve all had to go through it, and the only thing that’s worse is having a root canal, but at least they give you laughing gas for that. Maybe if dealers offer laughing gas during our buying experience?

  11. ClarksonCote says:

    If I were GM, I would not tolerate the lack of competence from many of the dealers that don’t try to sell the Volts on their lots or outright refuse to even be a Volt authorized dealer.

    1. Mark Hovis says:

      I don’t think this is at all limited to GM. In fact, I would argue that GM is doing a better job with EVs than Ford, Honda, or Toyota. Several comments note that they knew more about the EV than the salesman and the tone was an accepting tone to that fact. For the first wave of buyers I would agree that this is normal. For the next wave it will not be OK in making the sale. Especially with luxury EVs. At $60,000+ you play to win or you get out of the game. Tesla does not wish to undercut their dealer. They choose to operate without one. People need to be aware that this is only in the US and primarily (to this level) in one industry. Good to see you out here Mr. Cote!