“We love it, we drive it, we live it:” The experience of buying an EV from passionate folks!

I am the proud owner of an electric vehicle (EV), and also co-owner of Bourgeois Chevrolet in Rawdon, Quebec. On behalf of our team here at Bourgeois Chevrolet, I recently accepted the 2014 Electric Vehicle Dealership Award for the Leading Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Dealership in Canada given by the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA) and Plug’n Drive. I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about our experience selling EVs in the last two years.

To be an EV owner, you have to be open-minded, aware of what’s happening on our planet, and most of all, be ready to make a difference. Because we do make a difference!

Samuel Jeanson (centre), co-owner of Bourgeois Chevrolet, winner of last year's Leading PHEV Dealership Award.
Samuel Jeanson (centre), co-owner of Bourgeois Chevrolet, winner of last year’s Leading PHEV Dealership Award.

Changing consumer habits

It’s not easy for consumers to change their habits. We’ve been driving gas-powered cars for over a century. It’s part of our DNA and the general public views it as completely NORMAL. To suddenly ask people to consider another way of fueling their automobile might seem insignificant, but trust me, there is significant push-back from consumers.

Most of us are reluctant to change and this is a perfectly normal defense mechanism. This is exactly what we are experiencing with new EV buyers. We’re asking them to change their habits, the way they drive, the way they think about cars. We are asking for a shift in mentality!

But mentalities don’t change fast or easily. There is always a period of adaptation and in the case of EVs, I personally think it will take at least 10 years.

The wonderful team that we’ve put together at Bourgeois Chevrolet is trying to assist in that shift.

The challenges for dealerships and salesmen

I know many dealers are less than enthusiastic about plug-in vehicles. Neither the owner of the dealership, nor the sales manager, nor the salesperson is interested in low-profit, high-expense, and time-consuming vehicle sales, and it makes perfect sense when you think about it:

  • EVs are expensive compared to gas-powered cars (often twice the price). So for a dealer, it’s double the cost to keep these cars on the lot.
  • There is less profit for a salesperson selling EVs. EVs often net just half the profit of a similarly-priced gas-powered vehicle on the lot, so half the commission for the salesperson.
  • It takes three to four times longer sell an EV than a gas-powered car.

So why do we at Bourgeois Chevrolet put so much effort into selling EVs? Because we are passionate about them and their benefits. We decided to attack this market and see if it could be profitable.

Bourgeois Chevrolet - Winner of the 2014 Leading PHEV Dealership Award
Bourgeois Chevrolet – Winner of the 2014 Leading PHEV Dealership Award

Our award-winning strategy to sell EVs

We jumped into the EV market with both feet!  We’ve undertaken a range of measures to adapt EVs ourselves, and help our customers adapt them:

  • All of our employees have driven an EV for at least 2 weeks.
  • We invested time and training on EVs for all of our employees.
  • Eleven out of our 23 employees drive Volts as their personal vehicles.
  • We purchased 25 level-2 chargers that we installed all over our dealership building.
  • We invested a lot of time in events and blogs about EVs.
  • We always have 50 or more EVs on our lot.
  • We offer extended test drives (three to five days) so that customers can experience the everyday lifestyle of having an EV.
  • We talk to people about our experiences, charging stations, government rebates, the economy of owning an EV, and all that comes with being an EV owner.

And customers are beginning to shift their mentality and respond positively to EVs. They’re asking legitimate questions like: the price of batteries, battery life expectancy, locations for charging stations, ability to charge at work, all-electric range of the vehicle, fuel savings, resale value, and time to recharge.

Yet it still takes three to four times longer to sell EVs than it takes to sell a gas-powered car, as potential buyers need time to consider if the purchase makes sense for them.

I have not had a single customer tell me: I am ONLY buying an EV to be more ‘green!’ Every customer calculates if there are some cost savings to be had.

As salesmen, we have to be prepared to answer those questions, to show customers the financial value of driving an EV.  We have to show them how much money they will save in fuel, on top of cheaper maintenance costs and less frequent visits to the dealership.

The fruits of our labour

All of the actions that we’ve taken to bring our sales staff up to speed on EVs and make them more attractive to customers has paid off. In 2014, EVs represented more than 214 of the 600 total vehicles sold by our dealership. Not only were EVs 35% of our sales, but they represented a 35% increase in our total sales as well.

And, we were the proud winners of one of CEA and Plug’n Drive’s first-ever Electric Vehicle Dealership Awards.