“Dismissive and deceptive” dealerships may be deliberately underselling electric cars

Last year, the number of people registering to buy electric and hybrid cars jumped by more than 27% compared to 2016. Confusion over diesel cars being banned, greater awareness about EVs, and a rise in electric and hybrid cars from key manufacturers are all believed to have fuelled an increase in interest.

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Yet researchers have uncovered what may be a significant stumbling block if we’re to see widespread adoption – “dismissive and deceptive car dealerships.” 

 According to a study published in Nature Energy, car salespeople are reluctant to promote electric vehicles because industry and policy conditions favour petrol and diesel vehicles. 

Gerardo Zarazua de Rubens and his colleagues from Aarhus University visited 82 car dealerships across Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – on 126 occasions – posing as shoppers. They found that sales personnel were dismissive of electric vehicles, misinformed them as to vehicle specifications and encouraged the purchase of petrol and diesel vehicles instead.  The latter was seen in two-thirds of all the shopping experiences. In some cases, electric vehicles were omitted from sales pitches entirely. 

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“As most consumers do not have pre-existing knowledge of electric vehicles, car dealership experiences may strongly influence EV purchasing decisions,” said the researchers. “[In our study], we show car dealerships pose a significant barrier at the point of sale due to a perceived lack of business case viability in relation to petrol and diesel vehicles.”

Notably, there was no significant difference between the urban and more rural locations of the dealerships, which is in contrast to the idea EVs are better suited as city cars, and thus car dealerships prioritise selling EVs more in urban areas.

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These findings were later combined with expert interviews. Managers, industry experts and dealers said the lack of willingness to promote and sell EVs is because of their low profitability. They also bemoaned a lack of EV models on site, a lack of knowledge and competence about specs, and the fact EVs take longer to sell.

As a result, “salespeople opt for the known and easier-to-sell conventional cars”. EVs were additionally seen to negatively affect dealer profitability. 

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“To this end, we find that policy and business strategy should be developed to amend the barriers at the point of sale and support EV uptake, particularly considering that EVs could accelerate both the decarbonisation of the transport and electricity sectors,” continued the researchers.

“Policy intervention is necessary to reduce the net gap between the purchase price of EVs and ICEVs, as without price parity, dealers have little to no incentives to sell more expensive EVs to neutral shoppers.”

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