Us bloggers believe in giving businesses praise when praise is due, and also publicizing buying turn-offs. So here's how I just replied to an email from Salem (Oregon) Nissan.
I'd gotten a message from Salem Nissan asking if we were still in the market for a car that included this request:
If you are no longer looking or would like to be removed from my follow-up list, please send a quick note to let me know.
I did just that, saying "We're buying a Leaf from the Corvallis Nissan dealer, so you can take us off your follow-up list." When I was asked why Corvallis, rather than locally, I responded with:
CJ, I appreciate your asking the question that you did: why are we rural south Salem residents purchasing our Nissan Leaf from the Corvallis dealership, rather than locally? Here's the explanation:
Salem Nissan was the initial dealer we requested a quote from. In fact, it was the initial dealer twice, because after we received a go-ahead from Nissan Central that it was possible to take action on our Leaf reservation, we contacted Salem Nissan, then changed our mind about getting a Leaf, and then changed our mind about changing our mind -- contacting Salem Nissan again after we'd decided to get a Leaf.
(As you know, Nissan Central only allows prospective Leaf-buyers to contact one dealer at a time.)
After Salem Nissan was contacted, several "turnoffs" transpired. First, I was told that it wasn't possible to test drive a Leaf, or to even see a Leaf at the dealership. I told the salesman, with more than a little incredulity, "So this means that we're supposed to fork out $35,000 for a car that we've never driven, nor even seen in person?"
He explained that all Leafs exported to this country were earmarked for consumer purchase, so dealers couldn't get an "extra" car to have as a demonstrator. I have no reason to believe that this is untrue. However, after we did additional research we learned that both the McMinnville and Corvallis Nissan dealerships had Leafs that could be seen and driven (reportedly at McMinnvile a Leaf even could be taken home overnight).
In Corvallis, the main Leaf salesman/expert purchased one of the first Leafs to be sold in the United States (#3, I believe). I'm pretty sure this also is true of the McMinnville Nissan dealership, as we've heard that the Leaf salesman/expert there also is a early owner of a car, along with being an enthusiastic proponent of this pioneering electric vehicle -- and EV technology in general.
At the Salem dealership, by contrast, I talked with someone who was neither highly knowledgeable nor enthusiastic, and certainly wasn't a Leaf owner himself. So it was a breath of fresh air to tell Nissan Central that we wanted to switch from the Salem to the Corvallis dealership, and then to hear from the Corvallis salesman, "Yes, we have a Leaf you can drive. And if it isn't available, you can drive my personal car."
We've been told that the Corvallis dealership has sold over fifty Leafs. I don't know how many Leafs your Salem dealership has sold, but I suspect it is in the single digits. Which brings me to another reason why we didn't buy a Leaf in Salem.
When I told the salesman at your dealership that we really needed to test drive a Leaf (this was before we learned that such was possible in Corvallis and McMinnville), he offered to contact the first people in Salem who got a Leaf and ask them if they'd be willing to show us their car. This seemed a bit strange to me -- shouldn't a dealer be able to show prospective buyers of a $35,000 car a demo vehicle without enlisting the aid of a customer? But I said, "Sure, give them my name and phone number."
I never heard from the Leaf owners, who turned out to be a couple in west Salem who are avid environmentalists. Several times I reminded the Salem Nissan salesman about this, and he kept assuring me that he'd given the early Leaf owners my name and that I should be hearing from them. Again, I never did. Throughout, I wrongly assumed that they had purchased their Leaf from Salem Nissan.
Eventually I remembered that our local newspaper, the Statesman Journal, had published a piece about these early Leaf adopters. (A Google search showed that some "green" blogs had also linked to the newspaper story.) So it wasn't difficult to find their names, look in the phone book, and give them a call.
I've talked with the woman of the family several times. She is highly enthusiastic about the Nissan Leaf. She also is highly negative about Salem Nissan. This probably explains why she ignored the request from the Salem Nissan salesman to phone us. I was told that she and her husband initially contacted Salem Nissan about buying a Leaf, but found the dealership uninformed and uninterested in the car. They ended up having a very satisfying buying experience at the McMinnville Nissan dealer.
Look: buying a Leaf, or any electric car, is a whole different experience from buying any other vehicle. My wife and I have had lots of questions, anxieties, worries. We couldn't have gotten over the electric car-buying hurdle without sales advice that was well-informed, honest, and personable. Plus, it helped a lot to be talking with a salesman at the Corvallis dealership who owns a Leaf himself and knows the car's idiosyncrasies first hand.
If Salem Nissan wants to be a player in what hopefully will be a rapidly growing and evolving marketplace, your dealership needs to commit to this electric vehicle. Enthusiasm is contagious. Customers can tell when a car salesman doesn't know much about a car he/she is trying to sell. Most people interested in an electric car are environmentally aware, scientifically/technologically literate, and turned off by a traditional car-selling approach.
Here's a final comment along that line: both times I contacted Salem Nissan, I asked for a quote by email -- what the cost of the Leaf equipped as we wanted would be, and what the monthly lease payment would be if we went that buying route. Both times I got a phone call from the salesman, even though the second time I asked for a quote I emailed Salem Nissan and said "Don't call me; email me; I want a written quote."
Whatever happened to "the customer is always right"? This is a whole other subject: what turns people off about car dealerships and the car-buying process.
Today I talked with several guys at a neighborhood garage sale about this. We agreed that when car salesmen play games with a customer, it is a major turn-off. All three of us agreed that walking away from a dealership when this occurs is not only justified, but essential. Unfortunately, we also agreed that car dealerships in Salem tend to be considerably less buyer-friendly than dealerships in some other nearby towns (like Corvallis, Albany, McMinnville).
Hopefully Salem Nissan will get its electric car act together. I'm confident that electric cars have a bright future in Oregon, especially since our state is one of six with a grant to build Level 3 (fast) charging stations along major highways.