Plug in America's PlugStar program, created to help auto dealers sell more electric cars, in now available to dealers in the Garden State. The fact is, even though electric vehicle adoption continues to rise, electric vehicles (EV) remain a very small slice of the new car sales pie. Specifically, only about a 2% slice, nationwide.
There’s a number of contributing factors for this, like higher sticker prices than comparable gas cars, shorter driving range, a lack of robust public charging infrastructure, and most importantly, a general lack of understanding about EVs.
And the misunderstandings aren’t limited to customers. Customers are still learning about the quickly evolving EV technology and so are the dealership personnel tasked with selling the fast-growing number of EV models available. The learning curve has been a bit slow, and that’s for good reason. The retail car business works off an allocation system in which automakers design and build cars and offer them for sale to dealers. For most automakers, EVs are low production runs and most of the product is being shipped to California or other northeastern states where government incentives and infrastructure investment have created greater consumer demand. Manufacturers haven’t been allocating much EV inventory to New Jersey because New Jersey consumers aren’t clamoring for it.
“This is a chicken and egg situation,” says Pam Frank, CEO of ChargEVC, a broad coalition promoting electric vehicle use. She continues, “How can we expect dealers to sell EVs if they don’t see any demand? And how can we expect customers to buy EVs if they are not available for purchase? We need a comprehensive change in EV awareness if we want to see this market really develop.”
Dealership personnel need to become more familiar with EV technology. The cars and trucks they’ve driven and sold for the past 100 years have been gas or diesel and many dealership sales personnel have never even driven an EV. Chances are they have owned and been driving ICE cars for many years, so they know what to expect and they certainly know how to refuel it. Not so with EVs. Electric vehicles are fundamentally different than ICE cars, and they require the owner to change how they act and how they think about refueling.
The Tide is beginning to turn. Dealership sales personnel are there to sell cars, and they want to sell what consumers want to buy (and what their manufacturers make available to them). EV sales will continue to improve as dealer representatives learn to communicate the value of driving electric to their customers as well as they can speak about their conventionally-fueled vehicles.
Auto manufacturers are now beginning to deliver more and more electric offerings to their dealer networks, but they are not always giving their franchisees much help in selling them. When introducing any new technology - especially something as fundamental as fueling with electricity - it is crucially important that customers have a great purchase experience so that they’re set up for success and convince others to switch. To achieve that, dealers must similarly get the training and tools they need for success. Trouble is, we’re not always seeing that.
“Now that New Jersey government has put real money where its mandates are and has begun to address the obstacles to greater EV adoption, manufacturers will see opportunity to grow the EV market in New Jersey,” says Jim Appleton, President of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers. “And New Jersey’s 500+ neighborhood new car and truck dealerships are ready, willing and able to lead the EV revolution and help the State reach its clean air goals that benefit everyone.”
Enter PlugStar, a subsidiary of the non-profit organization Plug In America. PlugStar provides EV-specific training to dealers and their sales staff and recommends best practices to dealerships that want to sell more electric vehicles.
PlugStar has worked with over 200 dealerships in California, Massachusetts, and Missouri since the program launched in 2016. Now, with the help of PlugStar partners, NJCAR, ChargEVC, and the NJDEP, the program is available to all dealers in New Jersey.
PlugStar works closely with the sales team and management to educate the staff, offer management tips and best practices for selling electric cars. PlugStar also provides online tools to help keep the staff up to date with local and federal EV incentives and lets them keep tabs on local ride and drive opportunities for them to showcase their electric offerings.
“As part of Governor Murphy’s goals for clean energy and climate change, the New Jersey DEP is committed to supporting programs that increase the number of electric vehicles on the road,” said Peg Hanna, Assistant Director of Air Monitoring and Mobile Sources at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. “Improving the ability of sales teams to articulate the benefit of electric vehicles and the customer’s experience when buying an electric vehicle are important parts of our efforts.”
Additionally, both Atlantic City Electric and Public Service Electric & Gas have pledged contributions to help offset the cost of the PlugStar programs to customers in their service territories. These generous contributions will allow some of the earliest dealers that sign up in each respective service territory a substantial discount off of the program cost, which is $2,998.00.
For that, in addition to electric vehicle sales training, dealers get the PlugStar sales tool which has accurate, up-to-date EV incentive information and answers to customers frequently asked questions. They also get sales highly-valuable leads directly from the PlugStar shopping assistant.
“PlugStar provides tools and resources, including plugstar.com, where car buyers learn about, compare and experience EVs, shop equipment and services, and connect with trained or certified PlugStar dealers to make choosing an EV simple and easy.” - PlugStar Website
PlugStar also helps consumers decide which electric car best suits their needs. The PlugStar Shopping Assistant matches consumers with their perfect EV based on the style of vehicle they want, the cost, their ability to charge at home or not, and their driving needs. The customer then has a list of electric vehicles that meet all of their specific criteria and they can shop local PlugStar dealers to find the car they want.
The PlugStar Shopping Assistant also helps cut down on the time a customer spends in the dealership, as they can arrive at the dealership already armed with information like range, and charging times about the cars they are interested in.
The Time Is Now
The timing couldn’t be any better for PlugStar to come to the Garden State. Governor Murphy recently signed landmark legislation into law which will make buying an electric vehicle in the state much more attractive. In addition to funding the installation of 400 high-speed DC fast charge stations, the state will begin offering a rebate for up to $5,000 off the purchase of an electric vehicle. These actions will reduce two of the barriers to transitioning to electric vehicles, the higher initial cost, and the lack of adequate high-speed public recharging stations.
Other states that have initiated rebate programs for electric vehicles have seen the number of EVs bought in the state raise dramatically. That’s because manufacturers realize that incentives work, and increase their EV allocations to dealers in states that offer plug-in vehicle rebates. New Jersey car shoppers will likely see a lot more EV’s on dealer’s lots in 2020 than they have in the past, and PlugStar will be there to help the dealers get ready for the oncoming “electric wave”.
If you own or work at a car dealership in New Jersey and are interested in learning more about how the PlugStar program can help your dealership sell more electric vehicles, apply here on the PlugStar site.