As GM and Ford launch more EVs, dealers decide: Costly upgrades or obsolescence?

Both General Motors and Ford face something that could be a help or a hindrance as they shift to electric vehicles: their massive dealer networks. 

This year, they’re rolling out several new EVs—the 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV, 2022 GMC Hummer EV, and 2022 Ford Mustang Mach-E GT

—and in advance of the Cadillac Lyriq and Ford F-150 Electric the automakers are asking for a continued and perhaps higher level of engagement from their dealerships.

2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV

2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV

The two automakers have the largest U.S. dealership networks and thus they have a gigantic task ahead. But they have the potential to support EVs in a way other brands can’t. Meanwhile, as customer surveys point out time and time again, the dealerships that fumble the EV ground game sour the experience disproportionately. 

These are independent franchises, so likewise they have a decision to make. In some cases it’s a big ask for them to provide a high level of support and investment in something that at present is a very small portion of sales. 

Ford Mustang Mach-E GT

Ford Mustang Mach-E GT

In one recent example, Ford put a March 31, 2021, deadline on what it terms 2021 EV certification open enrollment. The letter, sent to its franch isees last month and originally noticed by our partner site Cars Direct

, lays out that the “next-generation” EV certification, costing up to $35,000 per store, is necessary to “order and sell the newest, most technologically advanced products offered by Ford.” The certification is necessary for current models such as the “Mustang Mach-E, Escape PHEV, all-electric F-150, and all-electric Transit,” but also for franchisees to sell future EV products and to perform warranty service on their high-voltage systems. 

In order to continue on the way for certification, the dealership needs to order tools and prove that it currently has Level 2 charging capability. Eligible dealerships need to have one customer-facing charger plus at least one charger to cover 10% of service bays. 

Ford has over 2,100 EV certified dealers across the country—about 70% of its total 3,010 locations. 

Future-proofing EV buying and ownership, from a distance

Ford is emphasizing the future in its equipment and charging requirements for EV Certified dealers, Ford spokesperson Emma Bergg explained.

“Those needs may change over time, and if they do, we’ll work with our EV Certified stores to ensure they’re prepared to meet the needs of the marketplace,” Bergg said. 

Ford Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition

Ford Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition

Ford has had plenty of plug-in hybrids over the years, including the C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi, but its only fully electric model, the Focus Electric, was limited to California. 

Chevrolet is continuing to increase the number of its dealerships that are EV-certified, and it has the Volt and Bolt EV—and Spark EV—to show that plug-in vehicles can be strong sellers worth the investment. 

As GM spokesperson Shad Balch noted, Bolt EV sales were up 26% year over year in 2020, and the lower price for the 2022 Bolt EV and EUV, plus the offer of subsidized home charger installation, should make the Bolt EV “a compelling case for dealers.”

In the U.S., about 1,700 out of 2,922 Chevy dealers are EV certified.

Cadillac, which aims to go all-electric by the end of the decade, is a different story. It had only one plug-in model in recent history—the ELR plug-in hybrid—that was most definitely not a sales success. 

Cadillac Lyriq concept

Cadillac Lyriq concept

Last year, GM asked that its Cadillac dealerships invest about $200,000 on upgrades per facility

on charging stations, training, and EV-related equipment. As an alternative, it offered up to $500,000 to drop their franchises altogether. A shocking 150—or about 1 in 6—of the luxury brand’s dealers are opting to cash out and close rather than embrace EVs. 

Cadillac noted to Green Car Reports that ultimately the decision is up to each individual dealer. “This is an exciting time for Cadillac and we believe most of our dealers share that excitement and will want to be a part of the future,” Cadillac spokesperson Katie Minter explained. “For dealers who choose not to join us on the EV journey, we will make a genuine effort to offer fair and equitable assistance should they wish to exit the Cadillac business.”

For dealerships who remain with the brand, Cadillac is taking a more customized approach. It’s working with the electrification solutions firm ABM to do consultations at every location, resulting in the development of “tailored, site-specific EV-readiness solutions for each dealer.”

2022 GMC Hummer EV

2022 GMC Hummer EV

The Hummer EV on the way this fall is the first of a new generation of GM electric vehicles and the first plug-in vehicle ever for the GMC brand. “A majority of GMC dealerships are en route to becoming EV Certified, and that number continues to grow,” said GM. 

Volkswagen of America, which is likely to have an easier task of getting its approximately 650 dealerships on board with its onslaught of EVs, is offering low-interest loans of up to $100,000 for facility upgrades in advance of the arrival of more affordable versions of the ID.4. Dealers have until March 31 to apply to that program. 

Some lessons from the past?

Asking dealerships to foot the bill of accommodating EVs is nothing new. Two brands that asked its dealerships to invest sizable amounts earlier last decade haven’t bolstered their lineups with electric cars as planned. 

John Duncan takes delivery of one of the first 2011 Nissan LEAF EVs, near Portland OR, 12/15/2010

John Duncan takes delivery of one of the first 2011 Nissan LEAF EVs, near Portland OR, 12/15/2010

In advance of the launch of the first Nissan Leaf more than 10 years ago, Nissan required each of its dealerships to install two Level 2 chargers accessible by the public plus two more for back-of-shop use—in addition to training and equipment. At that time, the total cost per dealership was estimated by Nissan to be between $25,000 and $75,000 per store. 

Leading up to the BMW i3’s launch in 2014, the German brand required its U.S. stores to undergo expensive upgrades, plus training that designated at least one staff member per dealership an EV “genius”—a program that didn’t go as expected. 

Lucid Studio - Newark, CA

Lucid Studio – Newark, CA

U.S.-based newcomers Rivian and Lucid both plan to skip a franchised dealership network, like Tesla. Although that leaves the automaker in control of the customer experience, it’s not entirely been a smooth growth process for Tesla either.

Will forced EV upgrades serve dealers, and will dealers be able to handle EV demands from automakers and customers? We’ll soon know.