Most dealers are lousy at selling electric cars. Here's why.

Electric car buyers face a tough time at traditional car dealerships, according to a recent report. One problem is that dealers apparently don't think consumers are interested in electric cars.

George Frey/Reuters/File
Justin Miller makes a phone call as he charges his 2013 Nissan Leaf electric car at ABB Inc.'s DC fast charging station in Salt Lake City.

From carmakers and politicians to enthusiastic owners, there are many groups pushing for greater electric-car adoption.

But more often that not, the dealers that actually sell the majority of electric cars aren't so interested.

Over the past few years, buyers have grumbled about the experience at traditional dealers that sell electric cars alongside internal-combustion models--and salespeople have complained about selling plug-ins.

This does not apply to Tesla Motors, which sells cars solely through company-owned stores.

But buyers of other electric cars still face a tough time at dealers, according to a recent report in The New York Times.

One problem is that dealers apparently don't think consumers are interested in electric cars.

In a speech this year, Forrest McConnell--former chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) lobbying group--said that only 14 percent of buyers cited fuel efficiency as the most important factor in buying a new car.

But it's also possible that dealers are worried that electric cars will negatively affect their bottom lines, for a few reasons.

Electric cars take longer to sell, because buyers are often unfamiliar with the technology.

ALSO SEE: The Challenge For Electric-Car Sales Is Car Dealers, Again (Aug 2014)

Calculating tax credits and applying other incentives also adds to the amount of time required to complete a single sale.

That makes electric cars unattractive to salespeople, who make money based on the number of cars they sell.

Taking the extra time to sell electric cars is proving hard for them to justify.

It also means salespeople may not be taking the necessary time to educate themselves about electric cars.

The New York Times report included stories--relayed by buyers--of salespeople unsure of a given model's range, or pushing oil changes that plug-ins do not need.

Electric cars also require less regular maintenance, cutting into a major profit area for dealers.

The NADA says on average, dealers make three times as much profit from service as they do from new-car sales.

But a 2013 J.D. Power survey found that while 57 percent of gasoline-car buyers planned to take their vehicles back to the dealer for service, that was only the case for 48 percent of electric-car buyers.

As long as dealers feel they have nothing to gain from selling more electric cars, they will likely remain a major bottleneck to greater adoption.

Because if the person selling the car isn't enthusiastic about it, how far should a customer be expected to compensate for that lack of interest?

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