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Here are some top-line findings from my dissertation research at UC Davis on EV sales, OEM distribution strategy, and marketing. Source is 2013 JD Power Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) study survey data from over 29,000 new car buyers nationally about their experience buying or leasing a new car. I conducted a comprehensive statistical analysis of the data using linear and generalized mixed effects regression modeling techniques. All findings were statistically significant at the 95% confidence level unless noted otherwise.

For mass market makes, EV buyers rated dealers a 7.49 compared to 8.00 (on a 10-point anchored scale) after controlling for differences in ratings caused by demographic factors like education, income and age.
Also note that this did not include what JD Power calls "rejecter" ratings. These are people who shopped an EV but ultimately chose not to buy an EV. Since there was no way to distinguish these from the data, I couldn't include them. Had I included rejecters the scores would have likely been much worse and the disparity would likely have been much larger.

As is, these disparities are very large by industry standards. For example, it well exceeds the hit to retail satisfaction that BMW took when it introduced its first generation "i-Drive" system, when Ford introduced its first generation "Sync" and "MyFord Touch" products and when Toyota introduced the first two generations of the Prius.

The picture is turned on its head for premium manufacturers. In 2013, Tesla was the only premium make offering an EV for sale or lease to the public. Conventional vehicle buyers gave dealers an average 8.62 rating in overall satisfaction, compared to a score of 9.38 given to Tesla by its buyers.

Some other interesting findings:

EVs are more likely to be "conquest" sales: 75% of buyers with at least college education switched from a competitor's brand to buy an EV compared to 60% of conventional buyers. Note that keeping customers is a lot less expensive than winning new ones.

Dealers are less likely to earn money on the "front end" of EV sales. Though it varies widely by manufacturer, most dealers don't earn a profit. Most salespeople earn the "mini deal" flat bonus of around $150-$200. Some carmakers give dealers an additional "spiff" (flat bonus) or "spin" (variable bonus) or grant them extra credit toward making their volume bonus to reward them for the extra time and caretaking EV customers need that detract from selling other more profitable models.

Dealers have fewer opportunities to make money on the "back end" of EV sales: 48% of EV buyers intend to return to the selling dealer for paid service or maintenance, compared to 57% of conventional car buyers.
Dealers are more likely to steer customers away from EVs: 7.3% of EV buyers (mass market makes) report that a dealer attempted to talk them into a vehicle they didn't want compared to 5.3% of conventional car buyers.

EV buyers are less likely to buy from the dealer again: 29% of EV buyers would "definitely" return to the selling dealer to buy another car compared to 37% of conventional car buyers.

EV buyers are less likely to buy from the manufacturer again: 25% of EV buyers would "definitely" buy from the manufacturer again compared to 31% of conventional car buyers (mass market makes).

Tesla is likely to keep more customers based on the retail experience: 62% of Tesla buyers would buy from the manufacturer again based on the purchase experience, compared to 40% of luxury conventional car buyers.

Tesla buyers are able to complete their purchase in roughly half the time on average as compared to buying from a dealer (for both mass market and luxury brands)

Tesla spends significantly more time with buyers during vehicle delivery compared to luxury (13% longer) and mass market (32% longer) makes.

Positive word-of-mouth is critical to the success of new entrants and start-ups introducing substantially new and different technologies to customers. Apple is perhaps the most notable and relatable success story in this regard. Just as the late Steve Jobs pivoted Apple away from independent third-party electronics retailers in favor of company-owned stores through which the "soup-to-nuts" customer experience could be architected and tightly controlled, Tesla has chosen a similar path. What stands in its way are a patchwork of state franchise laws that block or highly restrict this path, not just for Tesla but for any new entrant or incumbent vehicle manufacturer.


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