Normally when the dealerships versus Tesla debate props up, I'm on Elon's side. But a recent Forbes article that compares buying a Chevy Volt and a Tesla is not only an unfair, it's myopic. Chevy dealers aren't anything like Tesla stores, but that doesn't mean that Chevy are doing something wrong.
Brooke Crothers writes about cars and technology for Forbes. He is a Volt owner, and thinks his EV Chevy is pretty fantastic. Recently, Mr. Crothers did some shopping for a Tesla Model S and a Chevy Volt. Little to anyone's surprise, he found his experience at Tesla to be much friendlier to EV buyers. His article speaks to a much larger misconception that every automaker that sells an EV should be gunning for Tesla. This is just not true, Tesla is doing quite well, but they are still small potatoes compared to the massive amounts of non-EV vehicle sales across the country.
The article states what many EV buyers have experienced, in that for many dealerships EV sales just are not a priority.
Are many Chevy dealers becoming primarily truck dealers? That's my question. The impression I got at this Chevy dealer was that it was fundamentally a Silverado and truck dealer, with some sedans and Corvettes (as a showroom conversation piece) to sell on the side. And I've seen this at other Chevy dealers – many shadowed by a phalanx of pickups — despite having respectable sedans like the new Malibu. And, of course, the Volt.
There was one Volt on the lot. I repeat, one. Off in the corner and almost impossible to find. And, needless to say, none in the showroom. That sends a really bad message, in my opinion. One of the best cars General Motors has ever made and it's almost invisible.
Someone who is only concerned about EV sales may look at this Chevy dealer as "stuck in the past." But the lack of inventory and focus on the Volt has nothing to do with whether or not the dealership or Chevy as a brand is forward thinking, it has everything to do with sales. Last month Tesla moved 1500 units of the Model S; that is pretty good especially compared with other luxury sedans of the same price. Chevrolet, on the other hand, sold about 45,000 Silverados. On average GM sells more than twice the amount of Silverados in one month than Tesla sells Model S cars in an entire year. Meanwhile, Volt sales couldn't even break 700 units in February. Can you blame them for having the truck front and center, while the Volt takes a back-seat?
Despite their obvious differences, both the Tesla store and the Chevy dealer have the same basic goals...sell cars and make money. Regardless of whether or not the sales staff is paid hourly or commission, they want you to buy their car. The Tesla "salesperson" really only has one car to sell, the Model S. It is pretty easy to know your product when you only have learn about one thing. Meanwhile the Chevy salesperson has to know 18 models. If few buyers are coming in for a low volume EV/hybrid, but you have folks lining up for trucks and sedans, your focus is going to be where the money is. Of course this scenario just reinforces Musk's old argument that traditional car dealers would not be interested in selling EVs.
However, for some reason the author seems to think that Chevy should adjust their strategy to meet Tesla:
Message to GM dealers: At least pretend to compete with Tesla. My impression of the Chevy dealer I visited was that it had no interest in competing with (or little cognizance of) the Tesla dealer down the street, despite having a stellar alternative to the Tesla that is, by the way, about $35,000 to $40,000 dollars cheaper (or more) than the all-electric.
Now this is just silly...let's replace "Tesla" with another brand and see how it sounds-
"Message to GM dealers: At least pretend to compete with Mercedes. My impression of the Chevy dealer I visited was that it had no interest in competing with (or little cognizance of) the Mercedes dealer down the street..."
Tesla is a luxury car maker, that happens to exclusively sell an EV as their luxury sedan. The demographics between the two buyers couldn't be more different. No one is going to cross-shop a Tesla with a Volt, just like no one is going to cross-shop a S-Class with a Malibu. So regardless of brand, the dealership experience between a luxury car store and a mainstream lot will not be the same.
The post does present some fair criticism in that Chevrolet still lags behind Toyota in terms of sales and marketing of their EV:
If dealers are going to continue to make Corvettes (the past) the marquee feature in showrooms while relegating the Volt (the future – or at least a car that hints at a different future) to the backlot, things won't turn out well for GM vis-à-vis its arch-nemesis Toyota.
However, if we are just comparing the "experiences" at the dealerships, you aren't going to find many Toyota lots acting like Tesla dealers either. You have just as much chance of rolling into a Toyota "stealership" as you do a Chevrolet one.
It really comes down to this: dealerships don't care what car is going to sell well in the future....they care what car is selling well right now, and right now the Tesla Model S is hot, but so is the Silverado. Would it be great if GM/Chevrolet put more of a focus on the Volt? Sure, but we have hit a chicken and egg problem. With gas prices still low, the market demand for a 35k EV is limited. The Volt doesn't have the status of the Tesla. So until car buyers start asking for them, Chevy is going to focus on selling what it sells best, Corvettes, SUVs, trucks, and sedans.
If you have a question, a tip, or something you would like to to share about car-buying, drop me a line at AutomatchConsulting@gmail.com and be sure to include your Kinja handle.