Electric-car owners and advocates have a tenuous relationship with the franchised independent car dealers who are the only legal way to buy a new vehicle in the U.S.
Tesla excepted, if you want to buy a new car, you have to go to a dealership over which the carmaker has only limited control.
Horror stories abound.
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But as plug-in electric car sales rise, more and more dealerships are having to learn how to sell to customers who often know more about the car than their salespeople.
They must also come to understand their unique features, which is where today's pro tip comes in.
HINT to car dealers: if you have electric cars on your lot—anywhere—make sure their batteries are kept charged.
Chevrolet Bolt EV being charged outside Go Forth electric-car showroom, Portland [photo: Forth]
You'd think this would be obvious, but apparently that's not the case for some dealerships.
As the Los Angeles Times recounted earlier this week, if dealers want to sell electric cars, they need to charge them before the customer takes a test drive.
The newspaper noted last year that in a study by the Sierra Club of electric-car knowledge at dealers, fully 14 percent of the cars on the lot weren't even charged.
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We'd suggest that it's unlikely a similar proportion of the new vehicles on those same lots were out of gas.
The club's volunteer 300 secret shoppers, who visited dealers across the country, found many salespeople weren't very knowledgeable about electric cars.
As it turned out, the single factor that differentiates dealers that sell substantial numbers of electric cars from those that don't is having a dedicated salesperson who focuses solely on plug-in hybrid and battery-electric vehicles.
Tesla Store Los Angeles [photo: Misha Bruk / MBH Architects]
That's most common in California, where up to half the plug-in sales in the U.S. take place. But it's getting more common in other regions too.
Part of the problem with electric cars at franchised dealers is that often a dealership will only have one or two, which makes it easier to overlook them until a customer specifically asks.
In its report, the environmental advocacy group recommended that carmakers provide larger volumes of electric cars to dealers at more attractive prices—and put them in more states than simply California.
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The process of certifying dealers to sell cars with plugs needs to be simplified, it said.
Moreover, dealers should provide shoppers with both charging stations and detailed information on federal and also state incentives, the group said.
Electric cars need to be more prominently displayed, the Sierra Club said, perhaps "under special canopies" or within showrooms rather than buried deep on the lot.
[hat tip: Xiaolong Li]