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More expertise needed to bridge electric car, hybrid learning curve

February 13, 2013|By Ronald D. White
  • Volkswagen debuts the CrossBlue midsize SUV concept, a six-seater with an innovative diesel electric plug-in hybrid power train at the 2013 North American International Auto Show at COBO Center. Experts said more dealer expertise is needed to help buyers over the electric car and hybrid learning curve.
Volkswagen debuts the CrossBlue midsize SUV concept, a six-seater with… (Jessica J. Trevino / Detroit…)

Supporters of green-car technology like hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars say they were happy to hear that automakers like Ford and Honda are expanding the number of dealerships who can sell those cars.

Honda's 2013 Honda Fit EV, launched in California and OregonĀ in July, will be added to dealerships in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, New York and New Jersey. Ford Motor Co. is accelerating dealership certification for its plug-in electrified vehicles from 200 to 900 dealers.

Kirk Brown, managing director of Plug In America, said the expanded expertise is needed both to encourage prospective buyers and to help support new owners over the learning curve required to get the most out of their purchase.

"There has been an upside-down notion that EVs and plug-in hybrids should easily sell as well as conventional cars," Brown said. "And there's an assumption that the dealership network is as well educated about them as they are about conventional cars."

In fact, it isn't that simple. Experian Automotive, for example, recently reported that a $1 gasoline price spike would likely result in a boost for small, conventionally powered car sales but not hybrids, plug-in hybrids or electric cars.

One reason Experian cited was the lower cost of those small, gas-powered cars, but Brown said it was more complicated.

"Sometimes the dealerships are trained very well and the cars just aren't as readily available," Brown said. "The dealers have to catch up with how to sell these products and on how to support buyers."

James Fong, an AT&T systems technician in Los Angeles, is an example. The Fong household owns a 2001 Honda Insight hybrid, a 2010 Toyota Prius hybrid, and a 2002 Corvette.

Fong said it would have been great if the dealerships of the hybrids had been more expert with their advice.

Instead, Fong said it wasn't until he found a series of YouTube videos that he learned the subtle intricacies of getting the best mileage out of his two hybrids, which perform very differently under the same circumstances.

"Those videos explained all of the tricks and quirky little things you can do," Fong said, "like coasting, feathering the gas pedal. It all came to light then."

Now, Fong says he knows that the Insight is the better car to drive when he's facing a lot of highway miles, and that the Prius reigns if he's facing a morning of stop-and-go urban crawl.

Ironically, finally learning how to best drive his hybrids has also helped him get better mileage out of his Corvette.

"Now I get close to what is advertised as the Corvette's mileage on the freeway, by feathering the gas," Fong said.


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