Some dealers slow to get the hang of selling electric cars

Russ Mitchell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

SAN FRANCISCO -- To Oscar Gutierrez, electric cars are a "no-brainer."

"Like, seriously," he said, his arms outstretched, an incredulous look on his face. "You can drive and not use gas. The state gives you money to buy it. What else could you want?"

No surprise, Gutierrez sells electric cars. A sales manager at Community Chevrolet in Burbank, Calif., he pushes plenty of gas-powered cars too. Community asserts it moves more Corvettes than anyone in the Southland.

Of 250 vehicles Community sells each month on average, about a fifth are electric Volts and Bolts.

But those numbers are an industry rarity. Pure electric vehicles don't reach even 1 percent of U.S. sales. Add plug-in hybrids, and the number doesn't crack 5 percent. Range anxiety, limited models to choose from, and the proliferation of gas stations compared with the paucity of electric charging stations are all giving customers pause.

Advocates of electric vehicles say dealers have been slow to showcase and promote the advantages of electric cars and in some cases aren't even armed with the talking points -- government incentives, the ability to charge at home, savings on gas, environmentally friendly.


"When manufacturers say buyers aren't interested in buying electric vehicles, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Gina Coplon-Newfield, the director of electric vehicles initiative at the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club last year sent shoppers to 308 dealers across the U.S. and found that significant numbers of salespeople didn't know much about electric cars or didn't let on if they did. A third failed to mention $7,500 federal tax credits or state rebates available to buyers of electric cars. Half had no information about public charging networks. At 14 percent of locations, shoppers were told they couldn't test-drive the cars because they weren't charged.

Coplon-Newfield herself took part. A Ford salesman near Boston was friendly and serious about selling her an electric car, she said.

But he knew nothing about federal and state incentives that could cut the price of an electric car by $10,000 in Massachusetts, and "he was very misinformed about charging infrastructure." Wires were being installed under the highways, he said, so within a year, charging would be no problem. She was surprised to hear this, given that it's untrue.


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