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BMW's Toughest Task: Training Its Dealers On i3 Electric Car

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2014 BMW i3 hits the race track

2014 BMW i3 hits the race track

Enlarge Photo

Early adopters, ecology-minded citizens and, increasingly, drivers who want very low running costs are now buying plug-in electric cars.

That much we know.

But many have reported frustrations at the dealership, from a lack of interest to salespeople who actively steer them away from electrics toward gasoline cars.

MORE: Many Car Dealers Don't Want To Sell Electric Cars: Here's Why

Now, a new maker--BMW--is preparing to tackle those challenges for a radical new battery-electric car that it expects to sell globally in high volumes.

2014 BMW i3 (German-market version), Amsterdam, Oct 2013

2014 BMW i3 (German-market version), Amsterdam, Oct 2013

Enlarge Photo

How's that going in the U.S.?

So far, it appears, dealer education on the upcoming 2014 BMW i3 can best be described as a work in progress.

New Jersey restaurant owner Tom Moloughney has now been driving electric cars for several years, starting with a MINI E in 2009 and graduating to a BMW ActiveE in January 2012.

He's installed two charging stations at his Montclair restaurant, speaks and blogs about electric cars, and is generally a tireless advocate. Now he's being asked for assistance about the upcoming BMW i3, which he writes about regularly.

A blog post three weeks ago, My New Side Job: BMW i Dealer Training, covers his experience in some detail--and it's worth reading in full.

MORE: BMW To Use Geniuses Like Apple--To Sell i3 Electric Cars

Moloughney's frequent advocacy for the BMW i3 has made him a general source of information about the car, and now he's started to get questions from dealers, including "BMW Genius" staff.

2014 BMW i3 (German-market version), Amsterdam, Oct 2013

2014 BMW i3 (German-market version), Amsterdam, Oct 2013

Enlarge Photo

They are the newly designated product experts within the dealerships, who are supposed to be the people who can educate the buyers on the increasing complex technology built into BMW vehicles.

Moloughney writes:

After completing Genius training, they felt they didn't know enough about the i3 to be comfortable, so they were reaching out to me to help answer questions they had.

The worrisome part is [that] the questions they have are basic, generic electric-vehicle questions.

Moloughney notes BMW's Geniuses are expected to know, and be able to explain, all the technical details about all BMWs, not just the plug-in electric ones.

MORE: 2014 BMW i3: First Drive Of BMW's Radical New Electric Car

And undoubtedly BMW is still getting them up to speed on the BMW i3, which will likely start to reach dealerships in April or May.

2014 BMW i3 (German-market version), Amsterdam, Oct 2013

2014 BMW i3 (German-market version), Amsterdam, Oct 2013

Enlarge Photo

Still, Moloughney's experiences underscore once again that for many electric-car buyers, especially the well-educated and informed earliest adopters, buying their cars through dealerships that have never sold one before often remains a frustrating pain point.

And he suggests that the challenge is even greater for BMW: "BMW dealers will have an even tougher time than the other brands had in my opinion because the i3 isn't just an electric car, it really is a revolutionary vehicle."

The need is sufficiently great, he notes, that one dealer flew him to Canada for a day to give three sessions on the i3 and electric cars in general--which he writes were gratefully received, to the point where Moloughney may be invited back to give an update closer to the car's Canadian launch.

We look forward to hearing about the experiences of the first BMW i3 buyers this spring.

Meanwhile, we trust BMW executives have read Moloughney's post.

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