Vancouver, BC – Despite the first congratulatory EV dealer awards being handed out in Vancouver this week, where the largest EV conference in the country will open to the public all day Thursday, a study presented here that used secret potential plug-in shoppers found that electric vehicle buyers in Ontario still face significant barriers to buying plug-in vehicles in Canada’s most populous province.

The study found many barriers for these potential EV buyers, but the most significant one was simply the lack of actual available plug-in vehicles at these 24 EV-certified dealers. The study found that only 38 percent of these dealers had a demo model in the showroom for buyers to sit in throughout the test period, which was undertaken in February 2014. The study used 20 mystery shoppers overall, with a total of 95 different shopping experiences at these 24 EV-certified dealers from all plug-in models except Tesla, a company with no internal combustion vehicles to sell or dealers in the traditional sense at all, as all their stores are corporately owned.

Undertaken by Plug’n Drive Canada in partnership with Kitchener, Ontario-based group My Sustainable Canada, the study sought out a scientific way to quantify the common negative experiences many EV drivers have commented on after their vehicle purchase: salespeople trying to dissuade them from buying or even looking at an EV, not having EV-certified or knowledgeable sales staff, unavailable test drives, and more.

The lack of supply of plug-in cars was the one barrier that led to many of the problems reported in the study, said Cara Clairman, president of Plug ‘N Drive, when presenting the study’s findings.

“If they didn’t have a car, there were three or four months of wait times,” she said. “And the dealers were reluctant to send you to a dealer that did have cars on site.”

But outside of the supply issue, which Clairman said had been addressed for a number of brands since this winter and should therefore alleviate many of these other issues, there were some positives to see in the study as well – or at least better results than some expected.

About 70 percent of the salespeople volunteered information to buyers about Ontario’s plug-in vehicle rebate, which ranges from $5,000 to $8,500, depending on the vehicle and its battery size. Plus there were three times as many positive statements as negative ones by these dealers, found the study, although that number decreased quickly if the dealers had no vehicles available to sell.

EV2014VE Conference and Trade ShowElectric Vehicle Dealership Inspiration Award, Loch Lomond MitsubishiLeading PHEV Dealership Award Winner, Bourgeois Chevrolet co-owner Samuel Jeanson with Cara Clairman (left) and Jim Burpee (right)
EV2014VÉ Conference and Trade Show, EV Dealership Inspiration Award – Loch Lomond Mitsubishi, Leading PHEV Dealership Award Winner – Bourgeois Chevrolet, co-owner Samuel Jeanson with Cara Clairman (left) and Jim Burpee (right). Click image to enlarge

The study used dealers from a variety of areas: heavy urban (Toronto, Mississauga), low-density urban (Waterloo, Cambridge), rural (Owen Sound, Collingwood), and northern Ontario (Sudbury). Although plug-ins are considered largely urban cars for many people, buying patterns in Quebec and Vermont presented at the conference suggest that plug-in hybrids can be very popular in those areas, especially if there is money invested in public charging infrastructure.

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