There have been a vast number of automotive technological innovations during the last 20 years. Technological progress has created an entirely new dealership vocabulary. If you walk into a car dealership and listen to a new-car sales presentation, you’ll probably hear words such as telematics, autonomous, CVT, adaptive cruise control, dual clutch, streaming and smart-phone interface. These terms did not exist in the lexicon of dealership employees 20 years ago. Through the years, however, dealership staff has learned the benefits of these features and has adapted its sales presentation to include these technological innovations without much pushback. There was no prolonged and emotional debate on whether Bluetooth is dead-end technology or how CVT is going to ruin the car industry. So, why is the debate on EV vs. internal combustion so inflamed and polarized? And more importantly, how do we reframe this debate, so dealerships can demonstrate electric powertrain for what it is—just another technological innovation?
Let’s examine the first question. Unlike any other automotive technology, the electric vs. internal combustion debate intersects many politically charged topics, which makes it a great topic for US vs. THEM rhetoric. There is the environmentally friendly vs. the climate-change skeptics argument and the big-oil vs. big-tech tension. Of course, we cannot forget about the tax initiatives vs. free market conversation or the geopolitically relevant foreign oil vs. foreign lithium. The constant publicity and charged rhetoric discourage dealership staff (other than Tesla’s, of course) from even bringing up electric powertrain, thus altogether avoiding selling EVs.
How do we reframe the debate? The only major difference between an EV and a conventional vehicle is the powertrain (engine, transmission, regeneration components). That difference is not unlike the contrast between a gasoline and a diesel powertrain. A sales consultant at a Ford dealership wouldn’t avoid asking a customer whether they would prefer a diesel or a gas engine. So why don’t dealers ask customers whether they would prefer a conventional powertrain or an electric one? Dealership staff need to embrace EVs as just another method of vehicle propulsion.
Just like the gas vs. diesel debate, there are advantages and disadvantages of each powertrain and consumers can make those informed decisions. Professional sales consultants should not convey their own bias for or against any type of powertrain. Trust is built through an objective sales presentation and customer needs assessment. Not presenting alternative powertrains or taking a side on the EV vs. ICE debate eliminates a sales consultant’s objectivity and diminishes trust. It will be like taking a side on the automatic vs. manual transmission debate. A sales consultant may be a die-hard clutch pedal enthusiast, but if a customer prefers automatic transmission, good luck selling him or her a manual gearbox.
So, which is better—EV or ICE? There is no objective answer to this question. A more useful question is whether EV or ICE is better for the customer looking to buy a car. Each powertrain has its benefits, and a customer may decide to purchase either based on driving habits, price, cost of ownership, access to charging infrastructure or any other benefit. What’s important is to provide the right information and present the pros and cons of each objectively.
Is EV the future of mobility? No one can tell with certainty. The market will eventually determine what powertrain customers prefer. It may be electric, it may be fuel-cell, it may be internal combustion, or it may be something that hasn’t been invented yet. Until that happens, however, dealerships must passionately present, promote and differentiate their product portfolio with all its technologic innovations, whether it is autonomous driving, advanced telematics or electric powertrain.