We surveyed more than 1,000 vehicle owners to learn about their preferences and experiences when purchasing a new vehicle, focusing on the differences between electric vehicle (EV) owners and those who drive gas-powered vehicles – also known as internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles – or hybrids. The results indicate that non-EV owners are more dissatisfied and expect more from automotive dealers and manufacturers.
The car-buying experience has been essentially unchanged for decades: head to the dealership, talk to a salesperson, test drive some cars, buy the one you want, and hit the road in your new car. Of course, it's never been that simple. There are the high-pressure sales tactics, the haggling, the being left in a room while the salesperson "talks to their manager," the upsells, and the financing.
It comes as no surprise that many consumers are dissatisfied with the car-buying experience. Our study found that only 39% of non-EV buyers believe dealerships have their best interest in mind and that only 35% of those buyers trust the salespeople at dealerships. The dealer relationship also doesn't factor much into their decision making. More than 60% of non-EV buyers either don't find a good rapport with the dealer important or are indifferent to it.
of non-EV buyers believe dealerships have their best interest in mind
of non-EV buyers either don't find their rapport with a specific dealer important or are indifferent to it when buying a vehicle
Expectations have shifted dramatically, too, now that one-click buying and one-day shipping are common practices. Websites built by companies like Tesla have permanently raised the bar for car-shopping experiences. Shoppers can access a slick website, explore a car's bells and whistles, schedule a test drive, place an order, and finance the vehicle — all without stepping foot in a dealership. Car buying can be seamless, stress-free, and even fun.
Until now, the negative perceptions surrounding car-buying have gone mostly unnoticed and unaddressed by legacy automakers and dealerships.
Dealers say they prioritize customers and have positive reputations that build loyalty. "We have a good reputation," says a Buick dealer in Pennsylvania. "We do the right thing and have a lot of repeat business." A Ford dealer in Michigan offers this perspective: "We have a long-standing reputation at this location. Consistent ownership for 30 years, and people know what we stand for. They know our values."
There will always be exceptions, but our research shows a stark disconnect between what consumers want and what dealers believe they deliver.
Focus on Vehicle Expertise
- "Acquire expertise in the presentation of the vehicle to attain mastery in the subject matter."
- "...Focus on educating the customer about the products and prices, rather than hardselling."
- "I would change their staff and employ someone who is more knowledgeable about cars."
- "I would hope they had more information about the vehicle I was interested in..."
Friendlier Buying Experience
- "I would introduce more relaxed and welcoming atmospheres..."
- "If I could change one aspect of the dealership/showroom experience, it would be to make it more customer-friendly and relaxed."
- "Making their showroom more inviting..."
- "To be greeted at the front desk and appreciated..."
Less Sales Pressure
- "Less pressure from salesman."
- "I would change the fact that consumers often feel intimidated or overwhelmed when entering the dealership/showroom."
- "I would love it if we got some alone time to discuss what we really wanted."
- "Customer service looked at me as if I didn't have enough money to buy the vehicle."
Contrast that with the experience reported by EV buyers, notably the 41% who bought a Tesla, where a remarkable 96% are satisfied with their in-person buying experience, and 71% consider the relationship with the dealer or showroom either important or very important when making a purchase. Tesla owners loved the purchase journey across the board, describing the showroom as "chill" and more of an experience than a venue for sales.
Clearly, the potential for an excellent car-buying experience is within reach – and electric vehicle sellers currently hold the key.
are satisfied with their in-person buying experience
consider the relationship with the dealer or showroom important
Shift Gears from Sales to Product Expertise
Buying a car can be stressful. It's a big purchase — for many, in fact, it is the second-most expensive after their home — and no one wants to feel taken advantage of during the process.
Yet, pushy and aggressive salespeople are a big complaint at traditional dealerships. Consumers described dealers as "too heavily invested in churning sales" and "interested in making sales at their pace rather than meeting customer expectations." They also cited "feeling ripped off on price after the fact."
Approximately three-quarters of EV owners expect dealers to be extremely or very knowledgeable on topics of importance to new EV owners, including maintenance and repairs (71%), charging (58%), and battery life (66%). However, customers found almost 10% of dealers to be only somewhat knowledgeable or not knowledgeable at all on these things.
Dealers recognize that not all salespeople are up to speed on EVs, but those who understand EVs are very knowledgeable. A Ford dealer in New York said three of his four associates have the required EV expertise. "I would put them up against anybody as far as what they know about how things work."
As more people explore EV ownership, dealers will need to expand training to make sure their salespeople can educate buyers on the benefits of EVs.
Aggressive In-Person Sales Tactics Drive Customers Online
Ninety-five percent of all car buyers in our study reported doing at least some research before ever visiting a dealer or showroom, with 68% of EV owners doing a significant amount of research. In their quest to educate themselves before their purchase, these buyers use Google search (56%), online reviews (52%), brand websites (48%), and dealer websites (44%) to conduct research. They are less likely to visit aggregate auto-buying sites like autotrader.com and kbb.com.
Frank, a non-EV car owner from Illinois, feels the need to arm himself with as much information as possible before going to the dealership. He starts his research at the dealer website "just to try and get an idea of what's out there," he said. "And then, if the car is released, I'll go to cars.com and start looking to see pricing. Then, I might drill down and actually look at the vehicles and see what kind of features they have on them. There might be something I'm not familiar with that I'll have to go on Google, or I'll go to the manufacturer's website and try to figure out what that is."
Non-EV owners report doing extensive research. A vast majority (82%) begin begin by looking at online reviews, and 77% rely on Google searches. They also are more likely than EV buyers to visit aggregate auto-buying sites.
Interestingly, EV buyers are less likely to research extensively than traditional car buyers. Perhaps that's because the sales process in the showroom is focused less on high-pressure sales and more on education and consultation.
Traditional automakers and dealerships may want to take note of the opportunity to enhance digital experiences that drive customer engagement and satisfaction to compete with Tesla for those EV buyers.
While EV ownership may be on the rise, not all traditional car owners are getting on board right away. For example, 75% of car buyers in our survey have yet to drive an EV, and they have a lot of misconceptions about charging, maintenance, and ownership costs.
We found that traditional car buyers are likelier to perceive EV charging and maintenance as a major hassle but less expensive than the fuel and maintenance required by an ICE or hybrid vehicle. More than 50% of non-EV owners said a lack of convenient charging stations is why they wouldn't purchase an EV— representing an even more significant barrier to EV ownership than price.
In contrast, 87% of EV owners said finding a public charging station is easy or very easy, and most charge their vehicles at home, which makes topping off the battery much easier than most non-EV owners perceive.
of non-EV owners said a lack of convenient charging stations is why they wouldn't purchase an EV
of EV owners said finding a public charging station is easy or very easy
The good news is that most consumers believe that EVs are the future. Thirty-one percent of non-EV owners plan to purchase an EV in the next two years, and 65% are open to it.
While traditional car owners tend to research price and features, EV owners like Shenika, who purchased a Chevy Bolt, said research is essential when purchasing an EV to help prepare you for the switch from ICE or hybrid to electric. "Don't be scared to purchase something you haven't seen, and don't be scared to step out on faith," she said. "When I finally drove it, it was great, and I loved it. It's my favorite car."
For those like Shenika who switched to an EV, satisfaction with their purchase is high, and they are very likely to recommend EVs to friends or family members. Word of mouth like that might just move a non-EV owner to buy one. Only 3% of non-EV owners in our survey have no interest in ever purchasing an electric vehicle.
Dealers and OEMs Must Align Their Priorities to Best Serve Customers
Automakers and dealers can incorporate some of EV-only dealers' best practices — and learn from their mistakes, too. In doing so, they can forge a frictionless path forward for consumers to adopt electric vehicles at the speed necessary to meet governmental goals as well as improve the overall experience.
For instance, EV consumers’ high rates of satisfaction regarding showroom venues and direct-to-consumer experiences are not to be ignored by dealers looking to improve their sales and loyalty. Increasing base pay rates and adjusting goals for sales teams at dealerships can help lower sales pressure to make room for better customer service, particularly as manufacturers embrace transparent, non-negotiable pricing for EVs.
Further, evolving customer needs and preferences increasingly call for capabilities such as obtaining financing and insurance through a mobile app as part of a larger, more holistic digital-first approach to vehicle shopping. Dealers also have an opportunity to differentiate themselves by offering training, EV maintenance, fast charging, and other services to consumers after they drive their cars off the lot. Post-purchase interaction focused on education and the driving experience can build relationships and trust with consumers who will be more likely to purchase again in the future.
Post-purchase interaction focused on education and the driving experience can build relationships and trust with consumers who will be more likely to purchase again in the future.
That said, as automakers prioritize EV production, dealers will not be able to implement this transformation alone. OEMs must adopt these approaches first to create an infrastructure that balances the role of the dealerships with the digital-first experience.
One of the biggest components of this transformation is education. Even some EV-only dealers have suffered from less-than-knowledgeable employees on the showroom floor that left some assistance to be desired for consumers looking for education or a test drive. The dealers we interviewed, which sold both EV and non-EV vehicles at their locations, spoke highly of the EV training provided by manufacturers and the dedicated push to get dealerships ready. They also appreciated marketing materials like e-books and videos that help them educate consumers and overcome issues like charging anxiety. At the same time, they are still experiencing a lack of communication with manufacturers, which impacts their ability to fulfill all customers’ expectations.
Communicating clearly with both dealers and customers can help automakers manage those expectations and increase satisfaction. Legacy OEMs have the advantage of extensive dealer networks — something EV-only manufacturers currently struggle without — giving existing dealerships more abundant opportunities to tap into their communities, offer vehicle servicing to consumers, and schedule more test drives than EV showrooms can handle.
Overall, the prime opportunity to achieve all this is to reference voice of the customer research, which provides clear insights into what customers expect when purchasing a new car and keeps them connected throughout their ownership experience.
Dealers should meet consumers where they are, not the other way around. Now, during this EV transformation of the industry, dealers and OEMs must take the opportunity to modernize and truly understand the new face of their customers.
For you the consumer, the best way to get the experience you want from a dealer is to demand it — with your wallet. If you have an unpleasant interaction at a dealer, raise those concerns with management, share them on social media, or write a review. Make your voice heard and save your loyalty for a business that earns it.
As customers' expectations intensify, the best dealers will rise to the challenge. And the worst? Well, they'll likely go the way of ICE vehicles.
Our Research Methodology
To better understand current EV and non-EV owners, we surveyed a mix of 1,012 individuals across regions, ages, and genders. The survey collected 502 responses from non-EV owners, which included owners of both ICE vehicles and hybrid vehicles, and 510 from EV owners.
- EV owners are defined as people who purchased a new electric vehicle in person or online through a dealership or showroom within the past year.
- Non-EV owners are defined as people who have not purchased a car in the past year but intend to purchase a new car in the next two years, in person or online, through a dealership or showroom. These individuals have never owned an electric vehicle.
Additionally, we conducted 45-minute interviews with 20 car owners (a mix of electric, ICE, and hybrid vehicles) and seven dealers to gain more in-depth insight into perceptions, motivations, and behaviors.
responses from traditional gas-powered car owners
responses from EV owners
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Research Conducted By:
Automotive Industry Lead
Manufacturing Industry Lead
Director of Audience Insights
Principal of Digital Marketing