From up above, the future for electric vehicles looks bright. EV sales in the U.S. rose 81 percent from 2017 to 2018, and multiple automakers are talking about mass-market electric vehicles that will be available across the country and offered in numbers well beyond what’s needed to secure regulatory credits.
Shoppers are interested, too. One study by Consumer Reports and the Union of Concerned Scientists found that two thirds of prospective U.S. vehicle buyers are considering an electric vehicle in the future—including 31 percent as their next purchase.
However, a survey released Wednesday by the Sierra Club underscores a glaring reality: Dealerships still aren’t ready. They’re not getting enough EVs, and they aren’t prepared on multiple levels to sell them.
This time around, the survey found that 74 percent of dealerships in the U.S. aren’t even selling electric vehicles. Charging was, of course, an issue. In 28 percent of the dealerships visited, the salespeople had no information about how to charge the vehicle. And dealerships seemed unfamiliar with all the available incentives on electric vehicles; in 31 percent of the stores visited, shoppers were given no information about them.
EV inventory - Sierra Club 2019
And then there were the points of sheer exasperation. In 10 percent of cases where shoppers asked to drive an electric vehicle, the EV didn’t have enough charge for a test drive.
Some reports were almost farcical. A volunteer in Florida reported that the salesperson professed a love for gas cars and—apparently not familiar with Formula E, or just about any local drag-racing night—said EVs won’t be used for racing. We couldn’t help but think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in this year’s “Kicking Gas,” one of our favorite advocacy bits ever.
Even of the dealerships that has at least one EV on the lot, 43 percent had no more than two and just 9 percent had more than 10 vehicles.
The organization also sought to point out the sharp difference between what some automaker executives prioritized to the media and what their dealerships actually looked like, in terms of inventory and eagerness to sell EVs. It points out that the auto industry in the U.S. is spending 28 times more on advertising for internal combustion engine vehicles than for EVs.
As a whole, the Sierra Club found the Western region of the U.S. (California, Oregon, and Washington) to have much better availability of vehicles and better customer satisfaction.
Automaker customer satisfaction - Sierra Club 2019
The survey is based on responses from 579 Sierra Club volunteers who called or visited 909 different dealerships in all 50 states, from May through July 2019. It’s an expansion of the 2016 “Rev Up EVs” report that covered 10 states adopting California’s ZEV mandate. It was not a “secret shopper” program.
The Sierra Club has some real advice to automakers: Make more EVs; make them more widely available; provide better incentives to dealerships; help them with incentives; and increase marketing and advertising. If companies with the vehicles already developed and a surplus of ambition are going to follow through with their goals, it starts on the sales lot.