Selling your customers on alternative-fuel vehicles

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Almost a quarter-century ago, modern hybrid vehicles first went on sale in Canada. They required a lot of explanation: what they were, how they worked, and that they used electricity but didn’t need to be plugged in.

Hybrids are now so commonplace they seldom get a second glance, but that still doesn’t mean everyone understands them. Many customers also aren’t completely clear on plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), or fuel-cell vehicles (FCEV). If you can walk them through it, you’ll have a satisfied customer who will recommend you to others.

Gaining that trust requires being honest about the “cons” as well as the “pros,” and putting that person into the vehicle that’s exactly right, which might mean a different one from what they originally thought was best for them. There are also a lot of misconceptions about EV maintenance and repairs, and working through them could help sell applicable service contracts and plans for them.

Your salespeople need this knowledge even if you don’t offer alternative-fuel vehicles. It can potentially give them an edge when a customer says, “I’ve been considering an electric car – but do you think I should still stick with gasoline?”     

Hybrids are likely your easiest sale. As mentioned, they’re commonplace, and they don’t require plugging in. They’re not eligible for any provincial or federal rebates, but the price on many isn’t a huge leap over a comparable gas-only vehicle, and many drivers can make that back relatively soon with the fuel savings. Still, they need to know a few things about them, such as that they get their best fuel mileage in the city, rather than on the highway - not a huge difference, but some people are obsessed with checking fuel figures and will appreciate that heads-up.

Plug-in hybrids, despite having been around for a while, are still misunderstood by many consumers. The main thing to get across to potential buyers is that while PHEVs don’t have to be plugged in, there’s not much point in paying their extra price if they aren’t regularly charged to reap the fuel-free driving range. Emphasize that they’re viable on a 110-outlet for overnight charging for customers who don’t want to or can’t install a 220-volt charger; and that there’s no electric “range anxiety” because once the stored charge depletes, they’ll still run as long as there’s gas in the tank.

Battery-electric vehicles will usually draw customers who already know they want to go fuel-free, but they’ll appreciate you walking them through it – as well as those looking into the possibility. Go over any provincial or federal rebates early in the process (this applies to many PHEVs as well) to highlight a lower purchase price.

Charging infrastructure is a hot topic, and some people new to EVs may think they have to depend on it. They may not realize most charging is done at home.

Be honest about range, and make sure your customer knows it can be affected by such variables as ambient temperature, driving conditions, what you’re carrying, and even the tires, such as low-rolling-resistance all-seasons versus dedicated winter tires, or larger wheel sizes. Putting that up front helps avoid an angry customer when the real-world range doesn’t match NRCan’s estimates.

Selling plans and maintenance. A surprising number of people think that because EVs don’t require oil changes, “they don’t need any maintenance at all.” Of course, nothing is farther from the truth.

Some components on electrified vehicles may require even more attention than on a gasoline car. Hybrids and EVs use regenerative braking to charge the battery, which reduces workload on the hydraulic brakes – and with EV one-pedal driving, the driver may not use the brake pedal at all. This lack of use can eventually cause the calipers to seize, and it’s vital to examine and service the braking system regularly.

Hybrids and especially all-electric vehicles are heavier than their gasoline counterparts, and that puts extra pressure on steering and suspension components. These parts need regular check-ups, and may require replacement sooner than on a gasoline car.

EV owners know they have a large traction battery, but many don’t realize they also have a traditional 12-volt battery, used to initially start the electric motors and operate some functions. This must also be periodically checked as part of scheduled maintenance to avoid a dead battery and no-start situation.

Your OEM or third-party supplier will likely offer service or prepaid maintenance plans specifically for electrified vehicles. By walking your customer through all the information about these vehicles, including the pros and cons, you’ll be better able to put them in the models that are best for them, and the protection plans they might not even realize will be a benefit down the road.