I recently had a test drive in the ID.4. It seemed to be a great vehicle for the average crossover buyer, even if it would leave many EV enthusiasts disappointed. It should sell well, and not only because the vehicle will appeal to the average buyer in a key segment of the automotive industry. The biggest thing I saw going for it was that even a dealer from a small city seems very enthusiastic about selling them.
If this is any indication about VW dealers in general, they’re going to move a lot of vehicles.
What I’ve Encountered Before This
The dealer experience for EVs in southern New Mexico has been pretty awful in years past. For a long time, the only plugin car you’d see anywhere was the Chevy Volt. One time, when I went to look at them, the salesman took me to the back corner of the lot. The car hadn’t been washed, and when we got in and turned it on, we found that it had a low tire and hadn’t been charged.
The maintenance mode came on immediately, which means the vehicle’s gas engine hadn’t run in about six weeks. Given that it wasn’t charged up, that meant that the vehicle hadn’t been turned on in at least six weeks. The dealer, the salespeople, and everyone else there didn’t want to sell them, probably because you can get a better commission and better service money out of a crappy front-drive crossover or gas thirsty pickup (and the salesman did try to steer us that way).
After getting the service department to add some air, we took it on a drive, but then I saw the car sit in the same corner again, unmoved, for months.
The local Nissan dealer? Not only does it not sell the LEAF, but it also doesn’t work on them. They won’t touch a LEAF, even for non-EV related work. Apparently a dealer must be certified to do anything with a LEAF, and this wasn’t worth the bother.
The only other time I saw an EV for sale was when a dealer had a used Chevy Spark EV get traded in.
Talking to other EV enthusiasts over the years, the story is much the same outside of the larger cities and California. Dealers in smaller cities just weren’t into EVs, even if their brand offered one or two. Salespeople everywhere (often even it cities) would try to direct buyers to some other vehicle that would net a better commission.
Things Are Different This Time
When I heard the ID.4 was coming out, I figured I’d have to drive to Phoenix or Albuquerque to see one. Even El Paso was very unenthusiastic about EVs until pretty recently, so I wasn’t sure if they’d show up there. I thought that surely the local small-town VW dealer wouldn’t carry it for years.
But then I saw the big banner at the front of the dealer, I knew something was pretty different. I had never seen anyone locally even advertise an EV, let alone make it their centerpiece the way Sisbarro VW just did. I was confused at one thing, though: I didn’t see any ID.4 vehicles on the lot, so I went to investigate.
It turns out I didn’t see them because they’re out on test drives all day. After hours, they have to take them to the back to get them charged up for the next day because test drives were running the battery down. Volkswagen had even given the dealer one ID.4 just for test drives to make sure that there would always be one on hand for people to test drive even if they sold out.
They even gave this test-drive unit a special vinyl wrap job to make sure it gets attention. After test driving it and taking a look at another blue one, the general manager told me that they aren’t allowed to sell it for six months, so feel free to come back by and drive it any time.
When they saw me looking at it, they gleefully ran over and almost literally tried to stuff a set of keys in my hand for a test drive. It seems that they know the instant torque and smooth feel of an EV turns the average driver into an addict, and makes the sale without having to put the pressure on.
All in all, they seem very excited to sell EVs, and are going pretty far out of their way to do it.
The Big Change This Signals
If you live in California or some other place that has been a lot more EV-friendly, you probably didn’t notice much of a shift on this. Dealers still largely stocked EVs, and cared about them, and that continues. Out here in the EV desert, in flyover country, we’ve been lagging behind, and badly.
The fact that even small town and rural dealers are getting enthusiastic about selling EVs signals that the EV revolution is moving into the next phase. First, EVs were only for the DIY crowd. Then, they were only for the most enthusiastic environmentalists. Then, they became cool, but were a lot more popular in coastal cities. Then they were only for the rich in flyover country. Now, they’re going mainstream, and accessible (and desirable) to more and more people.
I have no doubt that Volkswagen is pushing the dealers a bit here, and may even be incentivizing them behind the scenes. It’s likely that it is offering better deals and commissions for the dealers to get the ID.4 in front of more drivers. That having been said, it’s easy for a dealer to not play ball, or only minimally play ball, when a manufacturer pushes something they just don’t think will sell. Encouraging people to take test drives, and even offering for people to come back and joyride the test vehicle shows that they aren’t just going through the motions to keep VW off their back.
Hopefully the dealers for other manufacturers will soon start doing this.