Riding an electric powersport vehicle can’t give you the same experience that riding a gas-powered one can. That’s a fact. The feel, sound and smell of it is completely different. Even from a performance standpoint, there’s very little comparison between internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric vehicle (EV) powersports. That’s actually kind of the point.
“I personally believe that EV platforms are fundamentally different from ICE platforms in the sense that they close the distance between the rider and the experience,” says Owen Scholl, co-founder and CEO of Elaqua Marine Inc. “An ICE engine can, in some circumstances, be as finicky as owning a horse compared to the ease and simplicity of an EV drive system.”
As such, manufacturers of EVs want to have a different riding experience from the traditional kind – a cleaner, torquey-er and less intimidating one. While your current customers may or may not buy into that experience, there’s a segment of people out there who do – even if they don’t know it yet.
With the recent growth of the EV industry, it would be wise to at least look at a business case for bringing electric powersports into your dealership. After all, just ignoring them won’t make them go away.
The Adventure-Experience Industry
This isn’t the only time the powersports industry has been disrupted by a newcomer. Dan Quick, director of communications for Zero Motorcycles, challenges dealers to remember the early days of personal watercraft (PWC).
“Most of the nation’s successful dealerships likely have been around long enough to remember when personal watercraft hit the scene, and there was a split in dealerships who resisted and those who embraced the new category of powersports,” Quick explains. “Obviously, jet skis have been an enormous boost to the dealerships that got behind that trend, and the same can be said for electric powersports as well.”
Scholl offers up an anecdote as an example of what can happen when one dismisses a new technological advancement too quickly. Back in the early days of commercial air travel, several railroad executives took one of the first commercially available passenger flights. After their journey, they regarded the experience as interesting but nothing noteworthy – and certainly nothing that would disrupt the railroad industry. However, by the 1920s, the passenger railroad business was undergoing a complete collapse, and today, rail travel in the U.S. is regarded as a novelty and barely acceptable for inter-city commuting.
“The railroad executives’ mistake was that they thought of themselves as being in the railroad industry, when in fact they were in the transportation industry,” Scholl explains.
He sees a parallel now in the powersports industry with dealers who believe EVs will never take off, since they lack much of the “power” and “sound” that is beloved in the space. However, Scholl warns those dealers that they may be exposing themselves to the same kind of risk that those railroad executives did.
“These dealers tend to think of themselves as being in the powersports industry, when they are actually in the adventure-experience industry,” Scholl argues. “Riders on the water, on-road, off-road, wherever are riding for the experience. If an EV platform can offer a better experience overall, i.e. closing the distance between the rider and the experience by removing the ICE engine while offering a better ownership experience, then there is no reason to think that EV platforms will trail behind ICE platforms for very long.”
Still Not Convinced?
We’re not advocating for you to push EVs on all your die-hard ICE customers. We’re not even saying that you have to bring EVs into your dealership. We understand that your region, clientele and a number of other factors will determine the business case for your dealership. What we are doing is bringing you awareness of the trends in the powersport space – and it’s undeniable that EVs are a growing trend.
Sandy Scullion, president, powersports group at BRP, states, “We are assuring our dealer network that when we release an electric powersports vehicle, there is a market for it, a use, and it will fulfill customer needs. This is a huge opportunity for dealers to attract new customers, including people who have never been inside a powersports dealership. It will allow them to offer new experiences and new adventures and ultimately increase their business opportunities. The focus will be on having options for new customers without losing existing customers.”
After all, with each successive generation becoming more and more aware of the environment, there will undoubtedly be some new customers who won’t be interested in a vehicle at all unless it’s electric. But the only way to know for sure whether electric vehicles are right for your dealership is to educate yourself.
“Start by doing research. Stop watching 20-second videos that confirm your bias and really dig into the information. Talk to anyone near you who is selling EV vehicles big or small. Think about what you can offer your current customers, and think about all the new people who will be coming into your dealership for the first time,” Scholl advises.
If you do offer EVs in your dealership, it never hurts to let your customers know they have options. Of course, lifelong powersports customers who know what they want and are looking at a slight difference between two combustion models may not be your target audience, but maybe they have friends or family members who are interested in electric models.
Now, it’s human nature to recommend or warn against the products your most familiar with. Salespeople are no different. If you decide to bring on electric vehicles, encourage your staff to ride them when possible. After all, the most successful products at dealerships are often the ones that staff use personally. Letting staff try out the vehicles will keep them informed when speaking to customers about the differences between them and ICE vehicles, no matter their personal preference.
“Be well-informed about the EV ownership experience. Dig deep to find out how the customer really uses their platform and find out what vehicles in their fleet could be a good candidate for EV, and let them know that you’re able to service them whichever they choose,” Scholl says. “If you offer that, you’re going to tap into a market of folks who on a normal day would never go into a powersports dealership.”
Speaking of Service
Last week, we talked about how EVs need less servicing than ICE vehicles. This is actually an attractive selling point to many people nowadays. Yes, there are still a number of do-it-yourselfers in the market, yet as technology becomes less mechanical and more electronic, fewer of them will be able to keep up. In addition, many people today feel like they just don’t have the time (or desire) to spend hours repairing or maintaining a vehicle.
In that regard, electric vehicle OEMs focus on enhancing both the user and dealer experience. Not only do they offer riders a platform with fewer maintenance headaches, but service centers can also stock fewer parts and have faster turnaround, getting their customers back out riding.
Still, if you’re worried that your techs won’t be able to pivot from ICE to EV, rest assured that the industry is ready to support you. While you will have to invest in having your techs trained (it’s a requirement to handle these vehicles), like any investment, it will pay dividends.
Many OEMs either have or are developing extensive training programs on servicing their EV offerings. Not only does this training help to ensure your techs’ (and dealership’s) safety, but it will also preserve the longevity of the vehicles. Some OEMs onboard dealers with the tools and skills necessary to sell, service and upgrade their vehicles.
“There’s a learning curve, sure, but it isn’t remotely as difficult to navigate as someone might expect,” Quick assures. “Unsurprisingly, we find the dealers with the best service departments for ICE vehicles tend to also end up having the best service departments for their electric business as well.”
There’s a definite use-case for EVs, and the support you need to sell and service them is available. What’s stopping you? After all, if you can get someone on their first powersport vehicle and bring that person into the riding community, whether it’s on-road, off-road or in the water, isn’t that better for the entire industry in the long run?
“The future arrives to us from the present. And at present, there are thousands and tens of thousands of people across many industries — working on everything from advanced battery chemistry to high-efficiency electric motors to charging networks — who are building the future of electrification and, specifically, electric vehicles. If you want to be there when this is shoulder-to-shoulder with the gas-powered platforms, the time is now. Don’t miss the wave,” Scholl concludes.