State regulators recognize that automakers and new car dealers face challenges introducing the plug-in vehicles stipulated by California’s ZEV mandate. The California Energy Commission awarded UC Davis, through its multi-disciplinary NextSTEPS research arm, a grant for a comprehensive study of California’s automotive retail market.
Anecdotal accounts in the early market for plug-in vehicles suggest a number of issues affecting dealer engagement in PEV sales and the quality of the retail experience perceived by customers. Dealers report lengthy sales transactions, complex incentives, and uncertain policy support. Customers cite under-informed and/or disinterested sales staff, attempts to switch would-be PEV buyers into conventional models, and poor after-sale support (e.g., charger selection, home installation, “away from home” charging, equipment use, and public charging etiquette). This study addresses the need for retail-level understanding via a study of the PEV buying experience. The research asks the following questions:
- How does the retail experience for PEV buyers compare with buyers of conventional vehicles?
- How might differences in the retail experience impact sales growth and market development?
- What retail-level influences help or hinder new PEV sales and are there opportunities for policy?
- Which retail practices and innovations yield higher PEV customer satisfaction and/or PEV sales?
We consider these questions using multi-method primary and secondary research in California’s core PEV markets, including interview data from new car dealers, automakers, electric utilities, and other supporting organizations. “Voice of the customer” survey data from PEV buyers and rejecters is obtained from J.D. Power & Associates’ 2013 Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study. Additional PEV buyer data is obtained from the state’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Program (CVRP) survey.