Solving those problems will remove the biggest barriers in the way of a fast-paced adoption of electrification, and Niello has been working to address them. Last year, several of the dealerships under his purview enrolled in a training course on how to sell EVs.
Since 2016, Plug In America, an advocacy group that provides information on EVs, has offered its PlugStar dealer training program to more than 100 dealerships in select U.S. cities. Program participants have sold four times as many EVs as their nontrained counterparts, according to the group.
Sales staff receive guidance on how to best explain electric powertrains — but that's only a starting point. Information for new EV owners often extends to explaining how they might need to rewire their garages for charging and that maintenance schedules no longer revolve around oil changes.
Seventy percent of customers surveyed at participating dealerships said they were "very satisfied" with their sales experience, compared with 35 percent at nonparticipating dealerships.
Niello Co. sold more than 12,000 new and used vehicles in 2019. Niello says EV sales, as a percentage of the group's overall sales, are in the "mid-single digits." With an ever-expanding list of electric options and a location at the epicenter of fledgling EV sales, he sees the PlugStar program as a means to ensure his customers stay happy.
"This is really adding resources for customers and adding value at the point of contact about why EVs might be a good option," Niello said. "It's helped us overcome price or range anxieties and maybe make it easier to have customers look at EVs as realistic options. The feedback we've gotten from our sales team has been overwhelmingly positive."
Plug In America, founded in 2008, focuses on government policy and public outreach for EV education. Early on, Executive Director Joel Levin says, the organization identified dealerships as a "chokepoint" for EV sales.
Fifty-four percent of dealers in a 2019 Cox Automotive survey said they see a lower return on investment for sales of EVs compared with gasoline-powered cars. Further, a third of dealers said the lack of marketing support from automakers and poor sales training contributed to their challenge.
PlugStar has been attempting to fill that void. "We know this is of value because dealers are coming back to us and wanting more training," said Program Director Eric Cahill. "They're willing to pay for it because we've given them the tools and support they need. That's a big piece of it."