Submitted by Marc Semail, VEVC Forum Monitor
Published by Tyler Hamilton, Special to TVO.org, Jun 24, 2016
Electric vehicle showroom
There is a tiny nugget buried in the Ontario climate plan released earlier this month, and while few noticed, it could significantly boost electric vehicle awareness and sales in Canada’s largest automotive market.
According to the climate plan, “Ontario will work with Plug’n Drive, a non-profit electric vehicle advocacy organization, to establish and operate a facility to showcase electric vehicles and related technology to Ontarians across the province.”
Details still have to be worked out, but Cara Clairman, president and chief executive of Plug’n Drive, tells TVO.org that the idea is to create a large physical space that lets consumers see all the electric vehicle models available for sale in Ontario.
Visitors will be able to take cars for a test drive and learn all about electric vehicles and charging technology, their climate and economic benefits, and the incentives available to consumers. Potentially, facility staff will refer interested buyers to local dealerships that have vehicles in stock.
First of its Kind
The one-stop public showroom would be the first of its kind in Canada, and a model for other jurisdictions to follow. “Without a solid education effort we will not get people to buy these cars,” says Clairman, adding that she’s “thrilled” the government backs the concept and hopes to see the facility open in 2017. “That’s been the key missing piece in Ontario.”
It’s a piece that vehicle dealerships in the province are expected to supply, but research from Plug’n Drive suggests many dealerships are a bottleneck — if not a barrier — to electric vehicle sales. In February 2014, the non-profit hired a firm that sent 20 mystery shoppers into 24 EV-certified dealerships across Ontario. A total of 95 shopping experiences were recorded and analyzed.
Cara Clairman, president and CEO of Plug’n Drive (Courtesy Plug’n Drive)
Dealerships not helping
Of dealerships visited, 46 per cent didn’t have an electric vehicle floor model for customers to see, let alone test drive. In more than half of the shopping experiences there were no EV-related brochures or pamphlets available. If shoppers wanted to order a car, they had to wait three to four months.
“Misinformation was an issue throughout the shopping experiences,” according to Plug’n Drive’s report. “Incorrect information was given regarding the availability of electric vehicles in Canada, their costs and benefits, details regarding the subsidies for electric vehicles, and a range of other topics.”
In 22 per cent of interactions mystery shoppers note a lack of enthusiasm about electric vehicles. In eight encounters, shoppers said they were discouraged from considering them “even after they prompted the salesperson for information and demonstrated a definite interest in the EV.”
While many dealerships were enthusiastic and knowledgeable, the report showed that others were not — and this was a survey specifically of EV-certified locations, the ones most eager to sell electric cars in Ontario.
Breaking the dealership bottleneck
As of March 31, a total of about 6,500 plug-in vehicles are registered in Ontario. The province’s new climate action plan aims to boost annual sales to 14,000 by 2020, up from about 2,000 sold in 2015 — in other words, to increase sales sevenfold within the next four years.
To spur sales, the province plans to extend its program of offering electric vehicle purchase rebates (in amounts up to $14,000) to 2020. In 2017 it will begin offering households free overnight charging for four years, and it hopes to eliminate the HST charged on new purchases by 2018.
Meeting housing requirements
Within a of couple years, new homes and commercial buildings will be required to be EV-ready (by accommodating charging stations) and a new program will be launched to help low- and moderate-income households trade in their gas-fuelled clunkers for a plug-in vehicle. All of this will be tied together by massive investment in public EV-charging infrastructure.
But Clairman believes eliminating barriers at the dealership level is crucial for the government to achieve its targets.
The problem is that dealerships won’t invest in electric vehicle training and inventory if they don’t believe people will buy the cars, and people won’t buy the cars if dealerships don’t have the inventory or training. “It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem,” she says. “If dealerships know they’ll sell them they’ll carry them, but they don’t believe that at the moment. We have to fill that gap and by doing so, my hope is it will inspire more dealerships to carry and promote EVs.”
Temporary yet necessary step
If Plug’n Drive’s one-stop showroom works, it will eventually generate enough demand to render itself redundant. “My view is this will have a five-year window. After that, the dealerships will be promoting EVs because they want to,” she said.
Dealerships – non committal
So what do electric vehicle makers think? Industry response ranges from reserved to dismissive.
“We have not been approached about a new centralized EV showroom model at this time, therefore cannot comment further,” says LouAnn Gosselin, spokesperson for FCA Canada, maker of the new Windsor-built 2017 Chrysler Pacific Hybrid, a plug-in minivan. “At this point, our dealers are excited to be offering consumers the world’s first hybrid minivan in their showrooms.”
Mitsubishi Motors wants to learn more about Plug’n Drive’s plan, but spokesman John Arnone says the company’s electric vehicle strategy will continue to “put our qualified dealerships at the centre of the sales and delivery process.”
To supplement not replace dealerships
Clairman is clear, however, that nobody intends for the universal showroom to replace dealerships. “We are not going to be selling cars. We’re going to work with dealers,” she said. “Some dealers will love it, because they know they’ll benefit from it. Some won’t love it.”
Tabulated and supplied by FleetCarma