No electric-vehicle subsidies exist in Nova Scotia, and even with federal rebates of up to $5,000, investing in infrastructure and educating staff and consumers can seem a low-value proposition for dealers.
Steele Chevrolet-Buick-GMC-Cadillac in Dartmouth, N.S., sells two to three EVs a month, but it is finding opportunities to be viewed as a regional leader in the space and is beginning to reap benefits from building relationships with customers.
“We realize that it’s still early in the game for broad adoption of EVs, but collectively we have made the decision to lean in and be a leader in Atlantic Canada,” Peter Porteous, vice-president of business development for Steele Auto Group, told Automotive News Canada.
“Education is critical at this early stage of EV adoption. Consumers are craving information as they research the technology, the charging infrastructure and the growing brand and model options.”
“Most customers, even most of the public that we talk to, are scared to death or very misinformed on what an electric vehicle is,” said Colin Jamieson, the dealership’s general manager. “They either feel that it’s chintzy, it’s too expensive, it has a short range, it’s going to drive funny or something weird is going to happen.”
When those doubts come up, invested sales staff are able to step in and play a key role in educating customers. Steve Murphy, a sales representative at the store, has earned a reputation as an EV advocate within the dealership group thanks to his personal passion for electrified vehicles.
“I talk about it all the time, even for people that come in [looking] at a Cruze. ‘Let me show you this Bolt!’” Murphy said. “Even if I only spent five minutes talking about it and they left the dealership with the car that they wanted to get when they came in, at least they were a little bit more informed on what electric vehicles are.”
Murphy took the extra step of becoming a member of the Electric Vehicle Association of Atlantic Canada, attending monthly meetings and working with its members on organizing local consumer education and hands-on driving events.
“We started doing a couple of afternoon events where we would supply a vehicle,” Murphy said. “We did a home show event in the spring, and we took out a Bolt and put it into a display with Nova Scotia Power. I was out there for two days. I wasn’t trying to sell a car; I was just answering people’s questions.
“As it turned out, I got a couple of sales from just talking to people.”
While EV adoption in the Maritime provinces is in its infancy relative to hotbed markets that have hefty provincial rebates, such as Quebec and British Columbia, Jeremie Bernardin, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Atlantic Canada, says that Steele GM has made inroads among his members in Nova Scotia by taking extra steps to be viewed as a leader in the space.
“Coming out to our meetings, offering up their boardroom, and seeing them participate in public events has been an important factor in the growth of the electric vehicle movement,” Bernardin said.
To certify a dealership for electric-vehicle sales, General Motors requires technician training program and the installation of Level 2 (240-volt AC) charging stations. Steele has gone further by installing more Level 2 stations than required and the store got a Level 3 (480-volt DC) charger, which cost about $25,000 to purchase and install.
“It’s a fairly expensive investment, but because we’ve been doing this for a while now, we’re getting a lot of customers that are coming [for it],” Jamieson said.
“When we do service work [on EVs], we actually get to give [customers] a free tank of electricity. And other people coming in are seeing these charging stations, and it’s allowing them to as questions, [such as] can I se an EV, can I drive one?”
While seeing return on these initiatives is a long game, Jamieson said that this work is already putting Steele GM front of mind for consumers as the market prepares for wider adoption of EVs. “It’s going to happen very fast,”
Jamieson said. “This is really coming at us like a freight train. It’s almost like we’re aging in dog years.
“It’s either get in front of the wave or get crushed by it when it eventually comes rolling down on us.”