Walk into a traditional auto dealership today and ask about buying a plug-in car and there is a good chance you will be told that there are only a couple they can show you because they are extremely popular and they can't keep them on the lot. There is also an equally-good chance you'll be told they've only a couple on hand because nobody wants them. This is only one of many surprising discoveries Consumer Reports made during a recent effort to gauge the quality of the plug-in vehicle retail experience.

The publication recently sent a number of masochists "secret shoppers" to 85 dealerships across four states and learned that, by and large, the franchisees are not very good at selling vehicles with a plug. This is the point Elon Musk has emphasized as part of the reason he prefers to use a direct-to-consumer sales model for Tesla Motors, and it seems difficult to argue against after reading some of the head-shaking situations CR's shoppers encountered.

Besides a general lack of knowledge about the product and the financial incentives in place to help buy them, there were these gems: they battery in the Prius Plug-In needs to be replaced every couple of years (wrong) and Ford doesn't make the Focus Electric (say what?). While this may sound unbelievable to some, there's no need to take our word for it. Skip on over to the report and read this sad tale of woe for yourselves.


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  • 21 Comments
      Rotation
      • 8 Months Ago
      The conclusion is 'In the end, most salespeople seemed to have the consumer’s interest at heart', followed by 'Still, even at the least knowledgeable dealership visited for this project, our secret shopper said they felt positive about the experience overall.' And yet this ABG article says that the story backs the idea that you can't sell gas and plug-in cars in the same dealership? That makes no sense. This is the Chelsea Sexton EV1 issue all over again. Many EV enthusiasts for some reason will brook no mention of the suitability of EVs to an actual customer's situation, including Domenick Yoney. More knowledge is better. When I bought my LEAF, the salesman (who was so new he didn't have cards printed yet) basically had another salesman handle all the questions about its EVness. So I'm all for salesmen becoming knowledgable. And systems like Toyota's, Ford's and especially Honda's don't really encourage the salesmen to even become knowledgable because chances are they'll never sell an EV. But after that, we have to realize that having the salesman "push" EVs instead of taking into account the customer's situation is not a good thing. If a customer gets a car that doesn't fit their needs they will be very upset. And if that car pushed on them was an EV, that means they will be upset with EVs. We don't want that. Now, aside from all that, as to the plug-in Prius, I did the math on it, it never makes financial sense. Even if you get your electricity for free. If a customer doesn't already want one coming in the door, chances are it's a mistake to try to sell them on one.
        John Fagnant
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Rotation
        The plug-in Prius never makes sense? Whatever. The rest of us acknowledge rising gas prices and dropping battery cost. At some point, it will be a simple decision to purchase. The approach is one that will appeal to the masses... affordable and competitive in the guzzler market at ordinary dealerships.
          Rotation
          • 8 Months Ago
          @John Fagnant
          Nope. It doesn't. I did the numbers. It's virtually impossible to make the extra cost of the car because you cannot save enough money 8 miles (or even 16, charging twice) per day. Every time you plug in you save $0.64. That's if you get your electricity free and gas is $4/gal. Your payback is 6900 days if you plug in once a day, 3450 if you plug in twice. That means 8 years to pay back. To make any real sense, that car needs more electric range.
      BipDBo
      • 8 Months Ago
      I asked about the Leaf my Nissan dealer has. They keep it hidden on the side. They do not care to sell the car, because Nissan has not allowed them to have any fair amount of profit on it. It's basically a factory direct sale, but the dealer has to go through all of the hassle.
        Ryan
        • 8 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        That is the big thing. The C-Max Energi only gives a little comission compared to the F-150 too.
          Aaron
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Ryan
          By that logic, car dealers should hate selling their compact (gas-powered) vehicles. There's very little profit in it. The trucks and SUVs, however, have a TON of profit baked in.
      2 wheeled menace
      • 8 Months Ago
      Their findings are no surprise. Many big companies are being forced to make these due to state rules and regulations, not because they have any real interest in producing EVs. The salespeople are probably given very very low commission rates for the electric cars, and thus have no interest in knowing about them, really. I do know that Nissan actually trains their salespeople somewhat in regards to the Leaf though..
        Aaron
        • 8 Months Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        When I got my i-MiEV, I had to schedule a time to talk with their one trained salesperson. I don't mind doing that. In fact, I liked that I didn't have to talk with an unwashed savage about an electric car.
      Ricky St. Vincent
      • 7 Months Ago
      I tried to lease a Volt at a NY Chevy dealership and the experience was terrible. They had one in stock... A 2013 model that they couldn't' even lease and this was after i scheduled an appointment a week ahead of time. The price they gave me was ridiculous. With 2000 down they wanted 400 something a month for a premium volt. During my test drive the salesman knew significantly less than me about the car. Telling me wrong information about the cars power train and insisted the engine never powered the wheels (it does above 70 when the engine is running already because its more efficient). The funniest thing was they just got an ELR in their showroom. The salesman tried to tell someone it had an 80 mile electric range which was why it cost more than a volt. I quickly pointed out to him that he was reading the MPGe not the electric driving range...
      CoolWaters
      • 8 Months Ago
      I think the only thing you can do is shop near the end of the month, and try a few dealerships. The dealership not making their monthly quota will sell you the EV.
      goodoldgorr
      • 8 Months Ago
      One day or another these plug-in cars will vanish by been deleted by car manufacturers and bankruptcy by tesla. Please bring natural gas cars, suvs and big tractor-trailor trucks and also hydrogen cars. Stop subsidies and law regulations toward bev research and marketing or brainwash if you prefer. Concentrate to construct a hydrogen infrastructure paid by private partners without too much subsidies. Do water electrolysis for 100% domestic non-polluting efficient hydrogen for hydrogen zev cars. It's a proven fact that bev are costing billions in tax and are not appreciated by the few number of consumers that bought them, most are for sale on the used market after a year or two. This website is just an outlet for inneficient pseudo-scientists, corrupt state workers, law-freaks, green nightmare depressed folks, people that don't know how to drive a car, computer social hackers, economic and media terrorists, subsidies searchers. Science and efficiency is despice by these folks.
      Greg
      • 8 Months Ago
      Well, considering I stopped by a BMW dealership and asked tough questions like "What's the engine's displacement?" that stumped the salesman ("I don't know what 'displacement' means"), no one should be surprised by the results. CR states: "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. And some automakers seem to have better-trained sales staff than others." - In other news, water is wet. Film at 11.
      Julius
      • 8 Months Ago
      The simple point I must be missing is this - if Tesla developed its own dealer network - just like Hyundai/Kia did not that long ago - you'd think that Musk would have a huge amount of say-so as to how the product is shown and sold, avoiding the problems he's describing. Because CR is finding issues at dealers who primarily sell ICE vehicles, not plug-ins, so the staff (in general) know more about their prime sellers. You'd think a BEV-only dealer wouldn't have these issues.
        JakeY
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Julius
        A dealer network still means the dealer is independent and thus there is much less control and there's only a limited amount of things the manufacturer can do if the dealer doesn't follow instructions (mainly limiting orders). Part of it is required by laws governing dealerships (which tend to favor the dealer). Also I don't think there would be than many that would be willing to sign an agreement that only allows them to sell one brand (if the law even allows that in the first place).
        Joeviocoe
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Julius
        --"if Tesla developed its own dealer network - just like Hyundai/Kia did not that long ago" Or... they can just open stores and fill them with knowledgeable employees. Oh wait, that is what Musk did... and he did avoid these problems.
      GleninCA
      • 7 Months Ago
      Not only buying, but even trying to rent a plug-in car can prove to be a hassle. I traveled to Dallas this week and looked into renting a plug in (the Volt) and even plotted out where various chargers were located around town. Unfortunately none of the car rental companies had any electric or plug in hybrid cars available. For such a big city like that, you would think that car companies would try and make a car like that available.
      Wepp
      • 8 Months Ago
      Before setting foot in a dealership to lease my 2012 Volt, I did quite a bit of research online about both the car and financial incentives that were available at the time. At both of the dealerships I visited, I found that the salesmen were well-meaning, but under-informed. When it came to writing up the deal, I had to point out incentives that were being overlooked. Neither the salesman nor his manager knew anything about these programs, and I had them go online to prove these things actually existed. It makes me nervous to think of how many people might be overpaying due to simple negligence.
      Spec
      • 8 Months Ago
      "Ford doesn't make the Focus Electric (say what?)" Well there is a lot of truth to that. Ford did not design & build the drivetrain & battery for the Ford Focus Electric. The drivetrain & battery in the Ford Focus Electric was designed & built by Magna, one of their suppliers. For does assemble the Focus Electric in their factories, but like the Toyota Rav4 electric and the Mercedes B Class electric, someone else designed & built the drivetrain (Tesla in the case of those two cars).
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