How to Buy an EV from a Dealership – a CX Case Study

July 29, 2023
18 min read

Or when the Bennett's met Sally

Sally's the car's name. More on that in a bit. The story on this one goes back a little longer, to early 2022. This is a tale of car dealership frustration. Spoiler Alert - at least there's a happy ending.

Sully (Blue) and Rose (Silver) - maybe the only photo I have of Rose because I didn't care about cars then.

It was February of 2022 when I really started getting serious about trading in and replacing Rose, our 2008 Nissan Altima. She was getting worse and worse gas mileage, costing more in maintenance, and obviously costing more at the pump than if we were charging an electric vehicle (EV) at home. For all those reasons and because we decided we were ready to make the switch to EVs, I started researching more intently.

Amy would probably call it obsessing instead of researching. I read every article, forum thread, and Reddit post I could find on the topic. I watched hour upon hour of YouTube content including previews, reviews, range tests, charging curve tests, accessory reviews, and pretty much anything else I could find. I started following content creators focused on EVs and interacting with them on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. I devoured all the information I could consume with my eyes and ears.

Time to test drive. Dealerships here I come!

Then one fine day in March 2022, I got the urge to test drive. I took a Friday off from work and started my quest to try out as many EVs on my list as I could find. My first stop was at West County Volvo. They had demo models of the C40 and XC40 available to drive. I spoke with a fairly disinterested salesperson who put a key fob in the cup holder of a XC40 and let me go off on my own - much to my delight.

Volvo XC 40 (Denim Blue Metallic - foreground) and C40 (Fjord Blue - background)

It's important to note that it was about twenty degrees out when I was test-driving, because the first thing I notice when I get in the car is the temperature. The heat is way hotter than I've ever kept a car and the heated steering wheel and seat were both active. It didn't bother me at first because I was so excited to drive, so after checking things out, I pulled out of the lot and onto Manchester Road, giving the accelerator a forceful press to merge into traffic.

That was my first time experiencing the instant torque of an EV. It was but a brief rush because of the traffic, so I eagerly anticipated getting to merge onto the highway just a quarter mile down the road. Now THAT was a rush. The XC40 was quick, much more so than the Altima I was used to driving. Still, that wasn't my favorite part of the experience.

The heat is on

Holy shit was it hot in that car. Worse yet, the heated steering wheel was burning my hands - just enough for me to be uncomfortable - I like to be cool/cold. A former college roomate dubbed me "The Eskimo" because I'd leave the window open in the middle of winter, but I digress. I got onto the highway, still feeling the heat on my hands, and just kind of instinctively said "Google, turn off the steering wheel heater." The car responded "Turning steering wheel heat off." My hands thanked the car and I took off down the highway and finished the rest of the test drive.

Volvo C40 up next

I took the C40 out next and while I found it to be equally if not more fun to drive compared with the XC 40, the rear window was so small and the back seat comparatively cramped, I didn't think it would suit the family at all. It was certainly sharp to look at though, especially in Fjord Blue.

That rear window was just too small for my liking. The view above me on the other hand was pretty sweet.

Checking out the S60 Plug-in Hybrid

While I was almost 100% sold on EVs, I decided to give the S60 Hybrid a chance to sway me otherwise. That test drive ranks as one of the more fun sedans I've ever driven. It wasn't as peppy as the instant-torque producing motors of it's EV brethren, but it was no slouch. It also looked more posh like a luxury vehicle inside, whereas the EVs were more modern looking - which is actually my preference.

The Heads Up Display (HUD) on the S60 was a nice touch. Being able to see the speed you're going and the turn-by-turn navigation prompts on the windshield right in front of you without it obstructing the view was pretty sweet.

Volvo S60 Hybrid

I left Volvo West County with the XC40 in the lead early on in the competition for our dollars.

HW Kia of West County is on the clock

Before I left Volvo, I checked to see if there were any Kia EV6s near me and low and behold, HW Kia had one on their lot. It was a straight shot down Manchester too. Perfect! I drove down Manchester and prepared to try out another EV.

I really liked the EV6. It was comfortable. It had all the tech I could ask for. It was unique looking, and if you ask me, pretty stylish. I loved the blind spot camera that turns on when you activate a blinker, something I eventually came to learn was standard on most Teslas. The EV6 Wind AWD trim I drove was quick, rode nicely, but it didn't have quite the same feel as the Volvo XC40. I liked it. I didn't love it.

I'm not paying that for a Kia

The worst part was the price. MSRP on this particular model was $52,285. Price with dealer markup was $65,184. You read that right, $65K. For a Kia. Not to mention it was $13K over MSRP. That was a new experience for me. I was used to haggling with a dealer on a car. Most cars were selling for way above MSRP, and EVs were some of the worst culprits suffering from both the microchip shortage and inability of manufacturers to build batteries fast enough. From what I've seen, Kia dealerships locally are still holding pat on those markups, despite having plenty of EV6 inventory.

Uh, nope!

Trying out other EVs proves to be a challenge

At this point, there were five other EVs that made my list to drive before making a decision. The Hyundai Ioniq 5 is the one I wanted to try the most but no dealership in St. Louis was Ioniq Certified and able to sell them new or service them at all, so the HI5 would have to wait. So would the VW ID.4. At that time, the Russian invasion of Ukraine had intensified significantly. VW's ID.4 plant in Zwickau had stopped production and the Nashville, TN plant had yet to open. More on that in a future post - I did eventually get to try both out and very nearly bought a HI5.

The Chevy Bolt EV and EUV were also a bit of a challenge to drive despite being readily available on dealer lots because of the battery recall that was initiated in 2020. It wasn't uncommon to see a dealer with numerous Bolts just sitting there waiting for the recall to be completed and allow their sale again. To this day, I've yet to try the Bolt, but I do have a few friends who drive them. My sister drives the Bolt's predecessor, the Volt.

I never got the chance to drive any of the BMW EVs available at the time. They were very hard to come by and by the time I could've driven one, I already made my decision. My research told me the BMW premium I would pay wouldn't be worth it. Besides, the grill on the iX looks like beaver teeth. Just try and unsee that now. That said, I did try an Audi e-tron. Much like the Kia EV6, I liked it, I didn't love it. The Volvo XC40 interior set my expectations and the e-tron didn't meet them.

What about the Ford Mustang Mach-E?

That's a great question. At this point in my EV shopping experience, I hadn't learned much about the Mach-E and I have no idea how I missed or ignored it. A YouTube video showed up in my recommendations that piqued my interest and I decided I needed to test drive a Mach-E before making a decision. Sunset Ford St. Louis appeared to have a Mach-E in their inventory, so I walked there to check it out. This is when I learned how inaccurate and inconsistent dealer inventories were represented on their websites.

I arrive at Sunset Ford and ask their Internet salesperson if they have a Mach-E available to drive. He tells me they don't yet, but there's one on order that should be available in 2-3 weeks. He takes down my information and commits to calling me when it arrives. A few weeks pass and I haven't heard anything and Amy and I just happen to be driving home and pass by Sunset Ford and I see a Mach-E sitting right on the corner of their lot facing the intersection.

I call the dealership

As soon as we get home, I call Mike at Sunset Ford and ask if the Mach-E on the lot is available to test drive. He says come on down. It was just delivered and the person that custom ordered it decided not to take delivery. They completed their new car protocol, inspected and charged the car, and it was available to purchase.

There she is. Driving the GT Performance Edition first was a mistake. 😀

It was a gloomy day. There was no sun and a threat of rain. It was still cold, even for early April. I decided to drive back because I was eager to get there as fast as possible. I arrive and Mike let's me know that it's a 2022 Mustang Mach-E GT with the Performance Edition package. The color is Iced Blue. I absolutely loved the look of it. All of the other EV SUV/crossovers looked so similar. The Mach-E owed some of its design language to its Mustang heritage. It was very much unique in its styling.

Time to test drive

At this point I'd driven Teslas which are not mentioned here because I tried the Model 3, Model Y, and Model S previously, well before we were ready to buy. Volvo XC40 and C40 had some zip. The EV6 and e-tron did too. I'd watched enough videos of the Mach-E at this point, and some "launch control" videos of people reacting to the instant torque and acceleration of the Mach-E GT, so I had some idea of what to expect.

Mike gives me the key fob, walks around to the passenger side of the car, and gets in. I get in the driver's seat, close the door, adjust my seat and mirrors, and get ready to take it for a spin. As we drive down the street leading up to the highway, we're chatting and I'm driving a few miles under the speed limit, very out of character for me. Mike mentions that he's ridden in a Mach E Select trim, but had yet to drive/ride in the GT. My eyes lit up and I'm pretty sure my lip curled into a sly grin.

We get to the on ramp to merge onto the highway and I punch it. 0-60 in about 3.5 seconds. I can see Mike in my periphery. He's firmly pressed into the seat thanks to the quick acceleration that caught him by surprise. He has a huge grin on his face. We both laugh, get back to our conversation, and I finish the test drive. I bring the car back to the lot and poke around the interior for awhile. Then I get ready to go to Fiona's rec league volleyball game later that night. I wasn't ready to make a decision.

I return the next day

I get back to Sunset Ford the next morning and I'm 99% sure I want a Mach-E. I enjoyed it more than any of the other EVs I drove. I also liked the convenience of the dealership being a mile away. Mike meets me out front and gives me the key fob. He tells me to take the car home and see what the family thinks - great sales tactic. The kiddos loved the Mach-E! Amy did too. It seemed like the perfect car for us. It was certainly more care than we needed. I had no intention of getting the GT, and even less so the Performance Edition. I preferred the Premium Trim.

I return the Mach-E to Sunset Ford. I talk to Mike and the sales manager. They let me know that their ADM (Additional Dealer Markup) was the going rate for the Mach-E and that none of them are selling at MSRP - which wasn't true but I played dumb. They also let me know they were still expecting the Mach-E I previously inquired about in the next few weeks. The reality is, that car didn't get delivered until well over a month later, but I didn't know that would be the case at the time.

I still wasn't ready

I drive home without the Mach-E because I wasn't ready to commit to that price tag without some additional research. I arrived home to a very disappointed youngest son who though that new car was already ours. I gave him a massive hug and told him I needed to do some more reading. He signed off on the additional research time and I was on my way.

We didn't need the performance-related upgrades present in the GT Performance Edition (GTPE). That said, there were a number of quality of life and comfort differences that come with the highest trim that eventually sold me on the GTPE. The GTPE has a larger battery and more range that the Select Trim that would be the next available option. The MagneRide Suspension system offer the smoothest ride available in the Mach-E. AWD was also our preference, and the en route Select model was RWD.

Other quality of life and comfort differences like the Panoramic Fixed-Glass Roof, ambient multi-color interior lighting, cargo area cover, and of course the improved audio system are a huge plus. Less important but cool things like the different wheel design, the Nite Pony Package, the GT badge, and the like all sold me on taking the plunge.

Night Pony!

Decision made

I call Mike first thing Monday morning and let him know I'm coming in to purchase the Mach-E. I prepared all the details we needed to trade in our 2008 Nissan Altima and the first break we had in our work days, we drove to Sunset Ford to complete the transaction. This is where even the best dealerships cannot compete with the ease and simplicity of the direct-to-consumer model Tesla employs.

Amy and I get to Sunset Ford and they start the process of evaluating the condition of our 2008 Altima. I already had a figure in mind that I wouldn't go below and had done the research to back me up. I knew what to expect. Their evaluation came in right about in line with what I was expecting. I agreed and then we talked price. I mentioned again that their ADM was excessive. I had numerous tabs open in Safari on my iPhone with pricing that was not in line with their markup, including a combination of dealer websites and anecdotal examples from Reddit, Mach-E Forum, and others. I was prepared. I like to haggle and I LOVE to win.

The battle is far from over

I win a small victory in talking them down on the ADM. I called their bluff when I was willing to walk and head to West County Volvo. I spoke with WC Volvo before we left for the dealership and confirmed availability of a XC40 that was our runner up. I'm impatient and impulsive, yes, but I'm no fool. We agree on a price and the sales manager confirms it in writing. Now it's time to to move to the finance manager's office.

The process was relatively quick and mostly painless because I proactively secured financing through our preferred lender. What wasn't painless was the badgering about an extended warranty and additional charges that weren't even relevant. After finally getting him to move on, we sign on the dotted line and head out to get our Mach-E.

My least favorite part of the process

As I've mentioned, I had done my research. I watched videos on all the features and how to customize the comfort and infotainment settings to my liking. I had even already messed around with much of it the day of the first test drive because they let me explore the car on my own for awhile. I knew how it worked and unlike my assumed know-it-all approach to the first Tesla Model Y rental, I didn't need a tutorial.

The one salesperson that knew the Mach-E - it's important to note that many legacy dealers were/are clueless about their EV models - met us at the car and walked us through EVERYTHING. They set up the FordPass app and Phone as Key for us - the one helpful part of the interaction. We were then in the car for probably an hour, I don't even know. I may have blacked out. I know I wasn't listening. I'm sure I was rolling my eyes. Amy and I needed to get back to work and again, I already knew the information being conveyed. After I come to again, they take a picture of us in the car and we're on our way.

I managed to crack a smile after the lengthy forced tutorial.

We'll call her Sally

Amy loves naming our cars. I had never done that before meeting her. She very quickly named the 2008 Nissan Altima we bought together Rose. I don't recall why, exactly. Sally on the other hand, was an obvious pick for us.

You can read about the history of the song "Mustang Sally" on your own. That's not our story, although how it got its name and Aretha Franklin's contributions are worth noting. We named our Mustang Mach-E Sally because 1) it bears the Mustang brand and 2) Amy's grandmother's name was Sally. So it just fit. There you have it: when the Bennett's met Sally.

The dealership experience - lots of room for improvement

Overall, our experience purchasing an EV from a dealership was positive, but it takes far more time and effort than Tesla's direct-to-consumer approach. It's also not nearly as transparent. My great grandfather owned a Ford dealership long before I was born, but that doesn't cloud my judgement or make me hate the dealership model any less.

Dealership Inventory and Digital Transparency

Inventory shown on dealership websites rarely represents reality, whereas Tesla can pretty much tell you the date you can pick up your car if it's not already on the lot and available. You almost always have to call or visit a dealership to confirm availability of your desired vehicle. That of course means you are forced to interact with a salesperson - one of my least favorite things to do. I don't shop. I consume. I research and make decisions and then I order via store pickup or delivery if those fulfillment options are available.

This may sound harsh, but how hard is it to accurately track inventory of something that weighs nearly 3 tons? It should be hard to NOT know if the car is there or it is not. Of course this is done by design. It's very deliberate. You can't be sold into something you don't need if you don't actually visit the dealership.

The hard sale

I'll give Sunset Ford credit. Mike was a very low-pressure, friendly salesperson. He was dependent on the aforementioned shitty inventory system to provide information on vehicle availability. He didn't try to pressure us into a purchase. His sales manager did. I was reminded many times over that they had an offer from a dealership in California to buy the Mach-E we were considering, and they were willing to pay $10,000 more than Sunset Ford was asking. But he really wanted someone local to get the opportunity. Sure he did. 🙄

The hard sale continued as part of the finance process and paperwork. I opened the conversation with "we're not purchasing an extended warranty." Even so, we were walked through EVERY option available to us, just in case we were to change our mind. No, means no. Salespeople need to understand that and move on.

Additional Dealership Markup (ADM)

This is the absolute worst part of the dealership model. When you purchase nearly any other tangible or digital good, real estate notwithstanding, there is a suggested retail price for that item. You make the purchase at a store, be it digital or physical retail, knowing what you're going to pay for that item. Yes, you may be offered add-ons, bolt-ons, and complimentary items. But you go in knowing that you'll pay MSRP or most likely less than that, and you go in with an accurate expectation of the final price.

An auto manufacturer sets the MSRP for their vehicles but has little to no control over the actual sale price of the vehicle. Dealerships have many methods of selling over MSRP. They can just add the markup to the price and that's what you're expected to pay. Or they can add features and accessories to the car that aren't necessary but are already baked into the price. Sometimes these additions are redundant of standard features. The car's app tells me where it is. Why do I need location/procurement anti-theft services tacked on, for example. Sometimes they're just straight up worthless or unnecessarily high-priced, like rust-proofing, paint sealant, or fabric protection.

Tesla, on the other hand, offers software upgrades and other feature add-ons via their purchase process that you can take or leave. You add them like you would any other feature purchased through any other eCommerce site, and you know exactly what you're paying for them when you do it.

Yes, the market and supply/demand determine the price. Yes you can vote with your wallet and not pay more than MSRP, but transparency in pricing should be the rule, not the exception. Tesla changes their prices pretty frequently, but it's all done transparently and nothing is added to the cost of the car after you've reserved yours. You know exactly what you're paying when you reserve. It's the same price on delivery day.

EV education, or lack thereof

In all of my searching and shopping for an EV, including the time spent before we purchased the Mach-E and additional time I spent this year test driving EVs to replace the Pathfinder, I met one knowledgeable salesperson that knew EVs. One. Of course that was the one that sat in a car with us reciting all of the features when we just wanted to go back to work, but I digress.

Every other dealership and salesperson I encountered gave me the keys and let me go about my business not explaining anything to me because they either 1) didn't know how to sell me on an EV or 2) weren't incentivized to sell EVs because they're incredibly low maintenance and dealerships make most of their money through their service departments.

Not a single salesperson attempted to educate me on the pros and cons of EV ownership. No one suggested that EVs require a little more pre-planning for road trips because you have to plan out your charging stops. No one mentioned that stock infotainment systems typically have trip planners, and some are better than others. I didn't receive any timelines or have expectations set for scheduled maintenance. I received little to no advice that was specific to EVs.

I'm used to being more knowledgeable about the product I'm buying than the person selling it to me. But the level of ignorance or willful indifference of so many dealerships when it comes to EVs is far from a blissful experience.

What have you experienced?

I don't think I'm alone in despising the dealership experience and sales model. I'd love to hear of advantages or disadvantages I didn't mention and perhaps didn't experience. What say you? Do you prefer the dealership model, or direct-to-consumer?

For more bite-sized CX Case Studies, check out the rest of the series. Next up will NOT be EV-related. Stay tuned.

Tagged: audi · bmw · chevy · electrification · ev · Ford · hyundai · kia · tesla · Volvo

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