Publication Detail

New Car Dealers and Retail Innovation in California's Plug-In Electric Vehicle Market


Working Paper

Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS), Plug-In Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center

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Suggested Citation:
Cahill, Eric, Jamie Davies, Thomas S. Turrentine (2014) New Car Dealers and Retail Innovation in California's Plug-In Electric Vehicle Market. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Working Paper UCD-ITS-WP-14-04

Innovative new products like plug-in electric vehicles may need new approaches to market and sell them. We conducted 43 interviews with automakers and dealers selling plug-in vehicles in California’s major metro markets and analyzed data on customer satisfaction with new car dealers and Tesla retail stores. Initial findings revealed:

  • Plug-in vehicle buyers rated the dealer purchase experience much lower than conventional vehicle buyers while Tesla earned industry-high scores;
  • Plug-in buyers expect more from dealers than conventional buyers, including product knowledge and support that extends beyond traditional offerings;
  • Profits from plug-in vehicles may not be compelling enough to convince more dealers to take on the greater demands of selling these alternatives;
  • New retail approaches undertaken by dealer “pioneers”, including new methods for building and scaling dealer competence, could improve the PEV buying experience; and
  • More "retail friendly" public incentives could improve program effectiveness.
Evidence suggests that pre-existing retail structure in the automotive sector could spur retail innovations for PEVs, but may also hinder the quality of customer support and pace of diffusion amongst dealers and customers. The paper examines the implications of these findings and advances opportunities policy.