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Dear Nissan, Vauxhall, Renault and others: Your EV dealers are broken

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.

Nissan dealers selling the Nissan LEAF

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.

Nissan LEAF charging information on the dashboard

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.

Car dealers often put their electric car models on display, without knowing anything about them

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.

Are dealers plugged into electric cars?

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.

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Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield

Filed under: Electric cars, Weekly Column

3 comments

John Godsland

This about sums it up. My local "big town" is Peterborough and I've had two completely contrasting experiences. The Nissan and Renault dealer, Smiths, is first class. They let me have a LEAF on loan for 4 days before I bought it so I could truly see if the car was for me. They have solid knowledge and welcome people to charge.

The opposite is the Vauxhall dealer, Marshalls. The are hopeless. I went in to enquire about the Ampera but they told me it was out of charge so they couldn't open the doors or the boot for me to have a look inside. I asked them to set up a test drive but never heard anything back. Needless to say, they lost a sale!

Paul Churchley

What a great article. I have had a Nissan Leaf for over 2 years and a Vauxhall Ampera for over a year and I totally agree with everything said here.

I have had bad experiences and good.

The Bad:
- West Way Nissan, Southampton... I visited several times and found them to be consistently unhelpful. Slow to clear non-EV cars from the charging bay (it is always blocked) and they just seem to resent EVs and their drivers. On one occasion their rapid charger failed, they refused a loaner and I had to stay in a hotel at £70 cost to me. They refused to refund.
- West Way Nissan, Stockport - Similar attitude to Southampton. Is this a West Way Nissan thing? If it is then it is very strange - the West Way group is owned by NISSAN!!!! If anyone was going to be friendly and understanding to the EV driver then you would expect it to be the dealerships owned by Nissan. Not so it seems.

The Good:
- JFE Nissan, Exeter - This is where I bought my Leaf so I use this rapid charger regularly. They are always helpful, quick to clear petrol cars (bays are often kept clear anyway). All staff I have spoken to understand the needs of EV drivers. Highly recommended.
- FJ Chalke, Wincanton - I cannot praise FJ Chalke enough for their EV friendly attitude. EV bays are always clear, staff are all helpful and they clearly value the EV driver's business. This was demonstrated admirably when their rapid charger failed on one visit... they put me on a flatbed and took me home - 105 miles! Outstanding service. I have heard similar reports about FJ Chalke from other drivers too.

In spite of this though I have found that generally there is more good than bad but I agree with the sentiment - things could and should be a lot better.

Nero

I'm not about dealers now but about the place of the charging point. Lincoln, charging point is in the 5 floor car park and guess where is it? On the very top! So if my EV (Aixam Mega City, no comparison to long range Nissans or Vauxhalls) with range of average 25 miles going to be flat how I'm going to claim there? Probably them are expecting me to have extension lead all the time... it is owned by PluggedInMidlands

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