People Are Buying Electric Cars in Bulk to Get Cheaper Prices
Mar 5 2018 Tracey Lindeman
[image / Pixabay
‘Electronauts’ are laying the groundwork for EV adoption.
Last year was the best on record globally for electric vehicle sales, as
bigger batteries, longer ranges, a greater diversity of makes and models—and
yes, Tesla’s influence— propelled the EV market to new heights.
InsideEVs.com reported 1.2 million plug-in cars were sold around the world
last year, with a notable jump in the US.
These figures are all the more remarkable when considering that many
customers—and even dealers—are still uneducated about almost all aspects of
electric cars. Buying, charging, whether it can be driven in the cold, range
anxiety, and other concerns still haven’t been totally demystified. Perhaps
because EVs represent such a small percentage of overall car sales,
automakers and dealerships haven’t felt any pressing need to become EV
educators. Often salespeople aren’t adequately trained, and sometimes
dealers don’t even have a single EV, let alone a selection of cars, on the
Given all these obstacles, the burgeoning EV market owes a debt of gratitude
to the unsung heroes of the electrification movement: Collective buying
These groups not only use collective buying power to negotiate for bulk
discounts, but also act as EV evangelists—”electronauts,”
colloquially—working to promote adoption, educate consumers, and explain
In the US and Canada, EV group buys are usually organized by nonprofits
and/or communities of early adopters to ask dealers and original equipment
manufacturers for discounts in exchange for a group’s collective patronage.
And they’re having an impact. In 2016, US advocacy group Southwest Energy
Efficiency Project noted EV sales doubled and even tripled in communities
where group-buying programs existed. Earlier this year, Colorado said
group-buys would be a major driver in attaining its ambitious goal of having
940,000 EVs by 2030.
“The enthusiasm level and knowledge vary wildly from dealership to
“We were bringing people to the table who were already interested and much
more likely to purchase,” said Ben Prochazka of the Electrification
Coalition, a Washington, DC-based group working to accelerate Americans'
adoption of plug-in EVs. His organization co-founded the influential Drive
Electric Northern Colorado in 2013, and that group-buy model has inspired
others like it across the US. (Now the organization is hoping to replicate
the model with electrifying public fleets.)
Because the EV learning curve had proved too steep for the average consumer
(and not lucrative enough for salespeople to bother reading up), some
dealerships and automakers saw the value of the group-buy right away. As
Prochazka recounted, allowing the group to remove some of the soft costs of
customer acquisition—marketing, public education, test drives, explaining
local and federal incentives—convinced dealers and automakers to offer
discounts. It also sped up sales.
Sean Mulkerrins runs the EV program at the Quirk Chevrolet dealership in
Braintree, MA, one of the top-performing dealerships in the US for Chevy
Bolt and Volt sales, with 50–60 sales a month. He said group-buys have been
a major source of business. “When [the customer] walks into the dealership
they’re ready to buy,” he said.
Quirk Chevrolet is a partner to Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, whose Drive
Green buying group has resulted in 300 EV sales in Massachusetts and Rhode
Island since 2016. One deal in particular saw Chevy Bolts being leased for
$150 a month—cheaper than most gas guzzlers.
Unfortunately not all dealers are ready to greet EV-minded customers, said
Anna Vanderspek, who helps run the Drive Green program. “The enthusiasm
level and knowledge vary wildly from dealership to dealership,” she said,
pointing to an investigation conducted in mid-2016 by US environmental
organization Sierra Club in which undercover volunteers were deployed to
dealerships to see how they handled EV customers. The report concluded EVs
weren’t displayed prominently, and were difficult to locate on dealership
lots. When they were located, they often hadn’t been charged—meaning no test
drives. Salespeople also failed to inform undercover volunteers of local and
federal rebates and tax credits.
Education is crucial to moving EVs, even when buyers are highly motivated.
Buying groups have historically filled this gap, but dealerships will need
to step up as EVs grow out of their niche market.
That’s why the Montreal-based ChargeHub evolved from a failed group-buy
effort to take on an educational role. In addition to managing rebate
programs for automakers and utilities like San Diego Gas & Electric,
ChargeHub also acts as a sort of outsourced how-to guide on owning EVs. “We
take the role of EV education and charging, which are integral steps in the
EV sales process,” wrote ChargeHub co-founder Francis De Broux in an email.
De Broux also said ChargeHub is about to release a dealership portal in
California with EV advocacy group Plug In America, which aims to train
salespeople on the finer points of owning an electric car.
The kind of external support the EV market currently enjoys has been mostly
motivated by electronauts’ simple desire to help the environment (and
perhaps feed their natural inclination to evangelize new technology).
“There’s a lot of need for outreach and education from trusted sources that
aren’t financially benefiting,” said Prochazka of the Electrification
Auto manufacturers and dealerships have benefitted from the goodwill of EV
evangelists who’ve gone forth to spread the gospel of the electric motor.
Still, the electronauts don’t seem to mind. They see it as a collective
movement to make environmental change, and maybe get a good deal on new
technology. Either way, they know there’s power in numbers.
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Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the
Electrification Coalition is based in Colorado. In fact, the group is
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