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Rewarding Dealers Who Sell Electric Cars: Connecticut Takes The Lead


2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Marin County, CA, Nov 2012

2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Marin County, CA, Nov 2012

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Incentives for buyers are a great way to boost electric-car sales, but what about incentives for the dealers that actually sell them the cars?

In February, the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) announced its "Revolutionary Dealer Award," which will recognize dealers that sell the most electric cars, according to coverage from Navigant Research.

The award--created in partnership with the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association (CARA)--will be given to the dealer that sells the highest total number of electric cars, as well as to the dealer selling the greatest percentage of electric cars.

2014 Chevrolet Volt

2014 Chevrolet Volt

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Any car with a plug, both battery-electrics and plug-in hybrids, counts toward the total.

The goal of the award is to inspire the Nutmeg State's car dealers to "come up with creative and innovative ways to convince car buyers that electric is the way to go," DEEP Interim Commissioner Rob Klee said in a statement regarding the award.

However, other details are unknown. The only prize may be recognition.

Prodding Dealers

Overall, dealers may need that extra inspiration, as many don't want to sell electric cars.

That 's chiefly because plug-in cars take three to five times as long to sell as gasoline cars, but aren't three to five times as profitable.

The added time needed to answer complex customer questions, arrange charging-station installation, and deal with other issues associated with electric cars makes internal-combustion models an easier sell.

Most dealers are agnostic regarding plug-in cars, but not regarding profits.

2014 Nissan Leaf

2014 Nissan Leaf

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So without any incentive that makes an electric car equally worthwhile to sell, they will likely avoid them simply because there's more, easier money to be made selling gasoline cars.

A dealer award doesn't change that monetary calculation, but perhaps the publicity will be appealing to some businesses.

Connecticut Goes Electric

As far as we know, the Nutmeg State is the first to try to incentivize dealers in this way, and this novel idea will likely become a key part of a grand electric-car plan.

Connecticut is part of a group of eight states that hopes to collectively put 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on their roads by 2025.

Since July 2013 the state government has provided around $177,600 to 48 towns and organizations to build 75 electric-car charging stations.

2013 Tesla Model S with owner Bruce Sharpe in Canada

2013 Tesla Model S with owner Bruce Sharpe in Canada

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However, Connecticut does not offer the purchase incentives available in other states like California, just a reduction in registration fees.

So while most states incentivize the buyer and not the dealer, in Connecticut it appears to be the other way around.

California regulators have asked about the process of dealer sales too, and a study group at the University of California--Davis is looking at the role of dealers in increasing electric-car deliveries.

Details matter

For context, we turned to noted electric-vehicle advocate Chelsea Sexton.

"It will be fascinating to see what data comes from this," she said--and whether it leads to improvements in how dealers sell electric cars.

Chelsea Sexton

Chelsea Sexton

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But, she suggested, the "details will matter" in how the Connecticut program is put together.

"For example, I'd like to see customer satisfaction metrics be considered in addition to pure sales numbers."

Sexton said she supports the idea behind the program--and notes that it's "not fundamentally different than what some carmakers already do internally to incentivize sales of various vehicles."

Nissan, she noted, gives special recognition to their top Leaf electric-car salespeople.

"The primary novelty here," she concluded, "is the involvement of a third party [the state of Connecticut], and that it seems to be brand-agnostic."

We might also note that Tesla Motors is likely not to be included in the Connecticut program, since it doesn't sell through independently owned third-party dealerships.

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