Plug-In Car Shopping Made Easy, Part 1.

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The horror stories abound. People out shopping for a plug-in vehicle, whether a plug-in hybrid or a battery-electric car, or EV, often find themselves in dealerships with sales people who don’t know much about the cars, can’t answer basic questions and would rather sell gas-burners.

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(Updated 11/25/17 to include Ipsos RDA’s secret EV shopper research)

The problems, first documented in a 2014 PEV shopping study by researchers at the University of California at Davis, were found pretty much unchanged in a 2017 study by Ipsos RDA market research.  The UC Davis researchers conducted their study in California, a state that’s a hot-spot for sale of plug-in hybrids and EVs, while the Ipsos plug-in vehicle shopping study was conducted in a number of states where EVs are sold, using secret shoppers who visited a total of 141 EV-selling dealerships.

In both studies,  shoppers found that salespeople often knew little about the cars’ features and the technology that makes them work.

Dealers, for their part, told US Davis researchers that it is hard to fire up the sales crew when it takes twice as long, for less profit, to sell a plug-in vehicle versus a conventional car or SUV. They also complained about the complexity of incentives, the ever-changing nature of the public car-charging infrastructure and the lack of coherent government policies for supporting the vehicles.

So what’s the poor shopper to do?

Homework, for starters.

Learning the basics of PEVs and of PEV charging before heading out to a dealership means you’ll be in charge of the conversation rather than at the mercy of a salesperson who may not know much about the cars.

This article presumes you’ve already done the research and decided that a car with a plug will work for you.

You’ve probably already narrowed down the list of which makes and models fit your needs.

If not, check the U.S. Department of Energy’s advanced cars and fuels tool or the plug-in-vehicle tracker maintained by the PEV advocacy group Plug In America to do side-by-side comparisons of the more than three dozen PEV models in the market today.)

Once you’ve decided on a car or SUV with a rechargeable battery, for all the environmental, fuel efficiency and fun-driving benefits it can provide, there are a few steps to take to make your shopping trip a joy rather than an ordeal.

You need to know your range and charging time requirements and to understand that efficiency can vary wildly in vehicles with rechargeable batteries, based on a variety of external influences – some of which are in the driver’s power to control.

It also would help before you start serious shopping to understand the basics of how fuel efficiency is measured for plug-in vehicles (PEVs), because it is a bit different from the gasoline MPG system we’re born understanding. Incentives, charging options, and a little bit about regenerative braking also are good things to know if you want to reduce your dependence on what a sales person might – or might not – know.

If you’re ready to tackle all that, let’s move on to the second installment of PEV Shopping Made Easy.

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