IMAGE: Pexels/Erik McIean

IMAGE: Pexels/Erik McIean

Electric vehicles, though known for their quiet operation, have been making a lot of noise in the automotive industry since the Biden administration paved the way for their adoption with the Inflation Reduction Act.

Now, the industry hears the EV market is heating up with picked up sales or cooling as sales drop off. Both scenarios may be true, depending on the day, says Eric Owski, CEO of Treehouse, a company that offers home EV charging as a service.

“The thing to anchor on is that EVs present a pretty significant change in lifestyle for most households,” he said. “People are used to fueling up whenever. But EVs require a little more planning than an [internal combustion engine] vehicle.”

In his opinion, early adopters overcame hurdles to adoption, while other consumers still wait for obstacles to clear. “It’s time to remove the obstacles. Let’s make change delightful for people considering an EV. With the right infrastructure at home, they’re going to be pretty happy with their decision.”

Owski’s comments were part of a roundtable discussion in a webinar sponsored by Assurant. “Charged Up: Embracing an EV Mindset” presented a host of ways for dealerships to build EV sales through new sales tactics, education and more.

Understand Consumer Concerns

Deloitte's 2023 Global Automotive Survey revealed that consumers remain wary of high EV prices, limited range and lack of charging infrastructure. The key solution to all the issues, according to webinar participants, is education at the dealership level.

“We’ve been doing it the same way for about 100 years. There is a big education piece to be done,” said Alex Johns, business development manager for Altelium, a company that provides warranties, insurance and data analytics to Battery Energy Storage System (BESS), battery cell, and EV makers.

Most consumers are unaware of how easy EVs are to drive and the convenience they provide, he said. “With a great home charging network, they can charge at home each night.”

Webinar participants also cited battery concerns as an obstacle. But research shows those concerns may be fading.

Recurrent, a battery analytics company, says the likelihood of an EV needing a battery replacement is low. It found that only 1.5% of the 15,000 EVs studied needed battery replacement.

Recurrent said most new-car warranties cover battery replacements from failure or degradation for at least eight years or 100,000 miles. The warranties also offer safeguards against capacity loss, according to the company.

Likewise, “battery prices have fallen,” says Emily Graham, director of Sustainability and [Energy-as-a-Service], at Holman, which delivers EV services to commercial clients and consumers. In fact, the U.S Department of Energy finds the cost of an EV lithium-ion battery has dropped 89% from $1,355 per kilowatt hour in 2008 to $153 in 2022.

Still, public infrastructure concerns keep many consumers on the fence regarding EV purchases, said Melissa Tam, vice president of Automotive Digital Technology Services at Assurant.

There are three ways to charge an EV battery. Level I chargers are regular wall outlets at a person’s home that charges an EV battery in about 20 hours. Level II chargers can be added to homes to charge an EV battery in just a few hours. Meanwhile, Level III chargers can quickly charge an EV battery to about 80% capacity in 30 minutes.

However, “the slower you can charge, the longer your battery will last,” said Brett Graessle, vice president of Global Partnerships and Business Development at Wallbox, a “smart” EV charging and energy-management provider that makes and distributes EV charging technologies. “If a consumer only has access to fast chargers, you can expect the battery to last fewer miles and fewer years.”  

Ideally, consumers should have Level II charging capabilities at home, Graham said, and dealerships can play a role in educating them about it. “However, it’s unrealistic to think that you will never have to fast-charge your battery. Sometimes you’ll want to do that to continue your journey and get to where you’re going.”

According to Graessle, the firmware and software between the EV and the charger also affect charging speeds. “These things define what rate you can safely charge at. Owners must continuously monitor battery temperature, state of charge, and get access to reliable, high-quality charging stations.”

Despite many automakers embracing Tesla chargers, many others have gone with different standards, and some are building their own networks. That will expand charging infrastructure for consumers. According to S&P Global Mobility, there are currently approximately 16,822 Tesla Superchargers and Tesla destination chargers in the U.S., as well as 126,500 Level II and 20,431 Level III charging ports of various providers.

Pave the Road to EV Maintenance

“An electric car will last as long as an ICE vehicle, if not longer, because EVs don’t have all the mechanical components of an ICE vehicle,” according to Kelley Blue Book. But like ICE vehicles, EVs require regular maintenance if consumers want them to last.

“There are many things dealers can help with here,” Johns says. “They can help new EV owners understand their vehicles, their benefits, and their maintenance needs.”

Dealers, for example, can aid consumers in understanding the condition of their battery and its charge. “People are anxious about replacing batteries and battery cost,” he says. “You want to address that.”

Dealership service technicians can quickly test the battery and provide an easily understood report on its health and replacement needs. The next step in reassuring consumers is to put “your money where your mouth is,” Johns says. “Back up the battery with insurances and warranties. Show that you will make sure if something goes wrong with their battery that they are covered. Now you’ve removed the friction [over the battery and its affordability.]”

Joshua Sonnier, vice president of global strategy realization and product development for Assurant, agreed, saying dealers must ensure all EV insurance and protection products they offer are designed for EVs.

“If customers purchase a mechanical repair service contract for their EVs, it should be tailored to EVs, covering the big items like batteries. Something as simple as roadside assistance can be a problem if the product was designed for an ICE vehicle, which may not need towed on a flatbed tow truck, and not an EV, which will always require a flatbed.”

Sonnier said dealers can take a proactive versus reactive approach to EV maintenance. Through connected data and awareness of a customer's driving patterns, a dealer could preemptively alert them before an incident occurs.

Remotely monitoring battery health, for example, helps the dealership spot unexpected degradation so they can proactively suggest customers bring in their EVs for service. “You can save a lot of money, time and hassle and create a very positive customer experience by nipping problems in the bud.”

Cultivating the EV Mindset

Dealerships are also a key line of defense in shifting consumer perspectives about EVs, webinar participants agreed.

“Dealer sales reps have a massive role to play at the retail level,” Owski said. “The better they can get at talking to people about the EV lifestyle, the car and the benefits, the easier it will be to help customers purchase an EV.”

According to Graham, shifting the customer mindset starts with a consultative approach and asking questions. “It’s up to the dealer to understand how the customer might use the vehicle in their day-to-day lives.”

Ask customers:

  • How much do you travel every day?
  • What type of car are you looking for?
  • What excites you about a car?
  • What do you plan to do with this vehicle?
  • How many people are in your household?
  • Do you own your home or live in multifamily housing?

Answers to those questions help dealers put customers in the right EVs. Someone with a long commute may not benefit from an electrified sports-utility vehicle or may need a smart charger to get them where they need to go, Graham said.

“These conversations can lead to a test drive and get someone behind the wheel of an EV. Driving these vehicles is easy, and it’s fun. If you can get someone behind the wheel and instill confidence, they will see an EV as an asset.”

The questions may also highlight when a customer shouldn’t purchase an EV, Sonnier said. “Maybe the customer came in thinking they wanted an EV, but an ICE vehicle is a better fit,” he says. “When you take a consultative approach, you may disqualify them, and let them know why this is not the best decision for them.”

Dealers also can encourage EV purchases by educating customers on tax credits and assistance programs. Consumers need help to access tax credits, and dealers are perfectly positioned to help, Graham said.

“Knowing what federal, state and local incentives are available can change the trajectory of someone’s EV purchase.”

Home-charging, for example, reduces the cost of EV ownership. Holman collaborates with New Jersey customers to secure a $1,500 utility bill credit for home-charger installation. “

That’s an enormous benefit that offsets most, if not all, of a home-charging installation,” Owski says.

Though other utility providers may offer a lower benefit, Owski said it’s still vital that dealerships know what’s available so they can present the opportunities to customers.

“These things all factor into cost of ownership,” he said. “They can make owning an EV less expensive than an ICE vehicle.”

Dealerships can give consumers a comprehensive understanding of the challenges and rewards of EV ownership, help them develop strategies for optimizing charging routines and navigating the charging landscape, and give insights into maintaining EVs for long-term reliability and battery health, the panelists said.

The shift changes the EV mindset from stationary to mobile. It’s a fact that leaves Sonnier feeling excited about the possibilities.

“I’m excited about the raw uncertainty here,” Sonnier said. “I think we all can agree that as a society we are moving toward EVs, but what that roadmap looks like and how we are going to get there remains to be seen. As with all innovation, we’re going to make mistakes. But when we look back at where we are today 10 to 15 years from now, we’re going to see some great successes.”

Ronnie Wendt is an editor at Auto Dealer Today.

Originally posted on Auto Dealer Today