Science

Why you barely see electric vehicles at car dealerships

In the news, it seems like electric vehicles are everywhere—from new tech developments to changing policies to increasingly interesting designs. And while the road to electric vehicles may be bumpy, reports show that it’s absolutely crucial to electrify our transportation sector in order to reach critical climate change goals. But unfortunately, the feeling of EV omnipresence doesn’t currently extend to the dealership.

According to a new study released this week by the Sierra Club, 66 percent of car dealerships nationwide did not have a single electric vehicle for sale. And out of those dealerships, only 44 percent reported that they would offer an EV for sale if they could get their hands on one. While this is a step up from previous reporting done by the Sierra Club in 2019, it’s still low considering the massive EV goals set in place by businesses and certain state legislation.

“To help avoid the worst impacts of climate disruption and protect our communities, it’s important that we accelerate the transition to all-electric vehicles,” Sierra Club Clean Transportation for All Director Katherine Garcia said in a release. “Enough empty promises: The auto industry must step on the accelerator and get electric vehicles on dealership lots now.”

One of the major problems getting EVs to the dealership lots is supply chain problems involving semiconductors and batteries, but some major manufacturers are also part of the problem themselves. Major manufacturers often don’t have many EV options in the US—for example, Honda’s first EV to sell in the US won’t be available until 2024, with Toyota only starting to sell the BZ4X stateside last year. 

For dealers, selling EVs just isn’t the same money making machine as selling combustion cars. A decent chunk of a dealership’s income is from parts and service, something that just isn’t as necessary for electric vehicles, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.

“All else equal, an electric car has fewer mechanical parts than a gasoline or diesel car, which directly means that the revenue a car dealer makes from an electric car is much lower than what the dealer will make from a gas or diesel counterpart,” Vivek Astvansh, an assistant professor of marketing at Indiana University, told Vox.

Plus, investing in infrastructure can represent a huge cost, from purchasing chargers and infrastructure to retraining staff on the ins and outs of EVs. Some manufacturers, such as Chevrolet, are enacting EV standards for their dealerships, according to reporting by Vox

It’s not all bad news, however—the ability to buy directly from EV makers such as Rivian and Lucid can put the pressure on dealerships to get the electrification started. States where policy allows for direct sales account for 615,724 EVs sold in 2022, representing 65 percent of all EVs sold nationwide, according to the report. 

And if you’re looking to find a dealership that has an EV in stock, your best bet is to try locations in the Southeast (which have a 41 percent rate of dealers with EVs) or look around for Mercedes-Benz dealerships which above 75 percent of offer EVs. 

But for dealerships, the time to act is now. There are already 1.9 million reservations or pre-orders for recently released EVs, and the percentage of EVs in new vehicle sales has tripled since 2020.

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