Maybe we've been going about this all wrong. Navigant Research says a recently introduced program in Connecticut that incentivizes dealers instead of EV customers could be effective because it changes the pressure points for electric vehicles. Navigant (formerly Pike) Research notes that the policy could push dealers to put a little more effort into marketing plug-in vehicles that have, in many cases, taken a back seat to more conventional vehicles largely because explaining the technology behind these cars is simply more time intensive. In fact, Green Car Reports estimates that plug-in vehicles can take as long as five times the amount of days to sell as a conventional vehicle.

The Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) recently unveiled what it calls its Connecticut Revolutionary Dealer Award and, in the process, became the first state in the nation to incentivize dealers. The state will be giving out one award to the dealer with the most plug-in vehicles sold during the six months ending July 31, and another award for the dealer with the highest percentage of plug-ins sold.

Connecticut is trying the dealer-centric method instead of offering a customer tax credit or rebate the way that states like California and the federal government do (the fed's credit is obviously still available to Connecticut EV buyers). Connecticut has also given out more than $177,000 in incentives to entities that deploy plug-in vehicle charging stations. This is all to assist the state's goal of having electric vehicles represent at least 10 percent of new vehicles sold by 2022. Check out Navigant's press release below.
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Selling EVs Becomes a Dealer Incentive

John Gartner - March 5, 2014

In the ongoing debate over what is needed to enable electric vehicles (EVs) to achieve a sizable share of new vehicle sales (i.e., 5% or more) one critical group of participants is often overlooked – car dealers. Automakers and state governments have focused primarily on developing a winning combination of incentives and regulations to get consumers to buy EVs while neglecting the importance of dealerships. That may be changing, as the state of Connecticut has created a novel award for dealers who successfully move EVs off the lot.

In February, the state announced that, in partnership with the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association, it has established the Connecticut Revolutionary Dealer Award. This award will be given to the dealership that sells the highest percentage of EVs, as well as to the dealer that sells the most EVs in total.

Moment of ZEV
Unless you're buying from Tesla Motors, dealers are the last mile in an EV purchase transaction. Their enthusiasm for selling new technology that requires more consumer education and has less likelihood of later service revenue has, not surprisingly, varied greatly. While in many cases consumers are sold on EVs before ever entering a showroom, the oft-maligned car salesperson can either make buyers excited about the technology features, mobile phone integration, and gas station avoidance or easily push an EV prospect toward a conventional vehicle via FUD tactics. Automakers have learned from the experience of some less-than-thrilled dealerships to create stronger incentives, and this appears to be the first time that a state agency has incentivized dealers to sell EVs.

While the press release did not specify whether the winners will receive a financial reward, plaque, or merely bragging rights, Connecticut is wise to trumpet dealers' important role as part of a comprehensive plan to expand EV adoption. Since it is one of the eight zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) states committed to collectively getting 3.3 million EVs on their roads by 2025, Connecticut faces an uphill battle. As detailed in Navigant Research's recent free white paper, Electric Vehicles: 10 Predictions for 2014, it's a long road from EVs being less than 1% of vehicles sold in 2013 to 10% of those sold in 2022, as required by the ZEV mandate.

For states to meet that goal, they will need multiple incentives and policies to encourage EV purchases. Connecticut currently offers grants for municipal agencies to purchase EV charging infrastructure, though the state's public tax credits for EV charging equipment expired in February. The Nutmeg State would be wise to add a tax credit for buying an EV and offer EVs HOV lane access, which California has proven will get consumers lining up for EVs. The move to recognize dealers who assist in the process is a helpful step along the way.

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