Weekly Column. By Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield.
Do you trust your local car dealership? If we assume that you’re like most of the rest of the population, I’d hazard a guess that the answer is no, because you’ve either had a bad experience yourself, or know someone who has.
Over the past few decades, the car industry has worked hard to distance itself from the image of the crooked, misinformed car dealer whose sole thought is making the next sale. For the most part it’s worked: dealerships are more customer-centric, service levels are improved, and staff are even willing to admit when they don’t know the answer to that question you just asked.
But personal and anecdotal experience from the past few years has lead me to believe that when it comes to EVs, many EV dealers need to be better trained by the car companies whose vehicles they’re trying (or not) to sell.
Lack of empathy
There are many reasons for poor customer service, ranging from a lack of training, a lack of empathy, or general disinterest in the customer and their needs. My wife’s personal experiences earlier this week at the hands of a dealership in Swindon, seem to highlight all three.
For various reasons I won’t bother to go into, my wife discovered on Wednesday evening that my Nissan LEAF (we’d swapped cars for the day) needed a top-up charge in order to make it home for our daughter’s 10th birthday party. With two possible quick charging stations nearby, she headed for the nearest, a Nissan dealer in Swindon.
Aside from Carwings directing her to a non-existent charging station at another garage in town, she eventually arrived an hour and twenty minutes before the dealership was due to close to be informed that the rapid charger at the dealership was “off line” and hadn’t been working for some time. The way she tells it, very few members of staff knew what was wrong, or how to use the charging station. When it became apparent charging in that way wasn’t possible, she asked if it would be possible to borrow a courtesy car, leave the LEAF overnight, and pick it up first thing the next day.
“We don’t have the insurance for that,” she was told. Even after telling the staff the importance of getting home to spend time with our daughter on her birthday, the staff remained unhelpful. Eventually, she convinced them to leave a gate open so she could charge for four hours at a slow type 2 charging station enough to limp the 40 miles home.
Of course, it’s worth noting from listening to other LEAF drivers that not all dealers are the same: one driver told me they were offered to be driven home by a sympathetic dealer while another was given a courtesy car to make a meeting when the dealership they visited had a broken quick charger. Sadly, these are not the norm.
Just for Show
Moving on from disinterested dealerships where the electric car is a vehicle that most staff are completely disinterested in, we get to another level of dealership altogether: the look but don’t touch variety.
These dealerships are often part of a larger group of franchised dealerships, with Vauxhall and Renault garages the most likely to suffer this problem. They’ll have a plug-in car on site, sometimes even with pride of place in the showroom, but when you ask staff about the car, you’re told that the dealership doesn’t actually sell or service the car because they don’t have certification to. Instead, you’re directed to a telephone to call the dealership’s head office or sister site-often hundreds of miles away- where they will sell you one...over the phone. And when you’ve got one? Don’t bother visiting them for servicing, because they won’t be able to help you.
The Misinformed Dealer
Perhaps the most dangerous category in this tale of woe however is the dealerships with staff who are poorly misinformed yet don’t realise it -or are too scared to admit they don’t know and make up whatever comes to mind. In this category, we find dealerships who don’t know what type of charging station they have outside, stranding owners who turn up for a quick charge to find there isn’t a quick charging station; dealers who think that cars have larger ranges than they really do; and dealers who promise customers that yes, they can ‘fast charge’ at home in under 30 minutes to full. Yes, I’ve had each one of these reported to me by indignant customers.
It has to change
Of course, there are good dealers too: dealers who will bend over backwards to help customers, who are realistic about the car and the expectations of the customer, and help manage problems effectively and quickly.
Far too many dealers however, remain uninformed and disinterested in the car they have in the showroom, either through fear, lack of training, or old-fashioned prejudice.
From the experiences I’ve had personally and recounted to me by others, it’s clear something has to change. Renault, Nissan, Vauxhall, and any other car company which sells a plug-in vehicle has a duty to ensure all of its dealerships are properly trained and engaged.
But for now, let’s start a conversation about your dealership experiences. Comment below with your good and bad experiences of EV dealerships.