Thursday, January 30, 2014

My New Side Job: BMW i Dealer Training

It's -2 degrees F here in Canada and I'm talking BMW i3 at Budd's BMW in Oakville!

I've written a few posts on my blogs about how poorly many dealerships have done when it comes to selling their electric car offerings. I blasted Nissan and GM pretty good a while back and had hoped that BMW would learn from the mistakes the other OEM's made when they rolled their EV's into their dealers' showrooms. However I'm starting to wonder if that will be the case.

Electric cars are different in so many ways. If the sales team isn't prepared for the onslaught of questions that they are going to get hit with as soon as the i3 becomes available to order, then it will not only hurt sales of the i3 but it will certainly tarnish the BMW brand image. BMW dealers will have an even tougher time than the other brands had in my opinion because the i3 isn't just an electric car, it really is a revolutionary vehicle. Besides the typical EV questions about the car's anticipated range, battery life, battery management, the effects of weather on the battery, charging, etc, they also have to explain the unique architecture with the carbon fiber and aluminum construction and the thermoplastic skin. How will it respond in an accident? How expensive will it be to repair? Why are the tires so skinny and will they perform well? And that's before they even begin asking about the range extender. Can it drive up a long hill at highway speeds? Can I simply refill it with gas and keep going? Why can't it be turned on manually? Does the waste heat from the engine warm the cabin? What is the maintenance schedule? And so on...

I've been working with JMK BMW in Springfield to help get them ready for the i3 also.
When I first heard about the new "Genius Everywhere" program that BMW was launching I really thought they had solved the dealer problem. It sounded brilliant and I figured these "Geniuses" would be thoroughly trained about the i3 and be able to assist a BMW client adviser with any issue or question about the i3 that a potential customer would have. However once I learned a little more about the program I started to wonder. The Geniuses are there to assist not only with BMW i questions, but technical questions on all BMW products.  Yikes I thought, that's a lot of information for them to absorb. Yes, they will have fancy iPads in hand to help them pull up info that they don't know off the top of their head but still, BMW has a lot of vehicles in their lineup now, and even a "Genius" has their limit. Then came the real concerning revelation. I started getting emails and private messages from BMW "Geniuses". They reached me though this blog and the BMW i3 forums on the internet where I post regularly and answer questions about the i3. After completing Genius training they felt they didn't know enough about the i3 to be comfortable, so they were reaching out to me to help answer questions they had. The worrisome part, is the questions they have are basic, generic electric vehicle questions. If they weren't taught this stuff then they will likely be no help at all to the dealers. In fact one person said this when describing how he feels about going to his designated dealership if someone asks him anything about the i3: "I feel like I'm being blind folded while walking into a room!" This isn't good to hear and believe me it gives me no pleasure at all to have to report it.

In addition to the Geniuses asking me for help, I have recently been getting emails from BMW dealerships asking me questions about the i3. They say BMW has promised them support for the i brand, but they haven't gotten it yet and people are now starting to call and come in to ask for i3 and i8 information and they don't have anything. I have even been asked to come to a couple of dealerships to help train the staff. One dealer in particular, Budds' BMW in Oakville, Canada really wanted me to come and give them a crash course in the i3. They flew me to Toronto and paid me to spend the whole day there and instruct three training sessions. I didn't do it for the money. I really just wanted to help them out since they clearly want to establish themselves as the area's premier BMW i dealer. They were willing to go the extra mile to fly me out there and pay me to help train them and I respect that so I went. The day went really well, and I'm sure they learned a lot about the i3. The following day I got emails from both the dealership manager and the owner and they both thanked me and were so pleased with how the training went they indicated that they would like me to come back to help them more once they get closer to the i3 launch. I have to say they were all really great people up there and I will certainly continue to help them if they ask.

It's not too late to get everybody up to speed, but the clock is ticking. The i brand launches in a couple of months and there is a LOT of ground to cover. I'll continue to help out when I can and in fact I have another dealership training set up for next week. I won't mention which dealer because I didn't ask them if I could talk about it.  Budds' was fine with me talking about this, and they really should be in my opinion. I commend them for wanting to be prepared. They are obviously a forward-thinking, progressive dealership that wants to have a competitive advantage and I really respect that. The next few months should be very interesting. I guess I'll know how well BMW is doing in preparing their dealer network for the i3 by how many phone calls for help that I get! I really hope they do it well. BMW put so much into the development of the i3 and i8, it would be a shame to have them do poorly because they didn't help their dealers get prepared for these unique and ground-breaking, cars.

28 comments:

  1. You are, as always, a good man Tom. And I reiterate my previous POV that, contrary to those who say BMW should give you a free i3 for all you have done for them, they actually should give you a free i8. Heck, they should give you both and i3 and and i8.

    In my advertising career I have worked for Porsche, Saturn, Hyundai -- and even BMW. Of all those, only Saturn had any real sense of how to work with and speak to customers -- and even Saturn lost that when GM moved control from Spring Hill back to Detroit.

    As you indicate, BMW's designers and engineers have created an incredible and revolutionary new vehicle in the i3. It will be a real shame if the BMW marketing and management people can't figure out how to do a better job of communicating and, yes, selling that revolution.

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    1. Thank you Harold. As I mentioned before, that's certainly not happening, and even if BMW wanted to offer me something like that, I couldn't accept because it would give the appearance that I was a paid shill. I'll be buying me i3 like everybody else and I'll pay full retail.

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    2. Tom - That answer is certainly refreshing to hear, and quite a different take than you December 12 blog entry. Kudos to you.

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    3. zzoott: The post you are referring to on the ActiveE blog is about the Electronaut Edition i3. Many of us were speculating what it would be so I just threw some ideas out there. That being said, there are definitely many ActiveE drivers that feel slighted, and have decided against the i3 because of this. I'm not judging whether or not that is fair, as we all had different experiences. I don't believe BMW owes us anything, but they did have a great opportunity to keep a large group of early adopters happy and enthusiastic about the brand and I don't believe they seized the opportunity. I have dozens of emails from ActiveE drivers expressing disappointment over how this has been handled and they are asking me for answers that I can't supply them with. It's been a bit frustrating I'm afraid to say.

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  2. Harold, a big Amen in regard to your comments about Tom. We started with the MINI E together and he's one of BMW's biggest supporters.

    The Saturn SL1 was my first new car as a college graduate. Loved not only the car but the whole dealership experience. Saturn made buying the car special. I still remember everyone coming outside and singing a song that I can't remember the words to, welcoming me to the Saturn family. Wow, where has that type of customer focus gone? BMW has an opportunity here with the i3 to really create something as special as the vehicle itself with the customer experience. I hope they do it.

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    1. Hey Todd, nice to see you chime in. Sorry you won't be getting an i3 though… How's the RAV4 EV been doing so far?

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    2. Hi Tom, Not getting one for "now". :)

      Todd

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  3. Seriously, how do you find the time to do this and run a restaurant? My hats off to you. I can attest to the last of information first hand. I went to me dealer to get i3 information just last week and they had nothing. No brochures, no information packets, nothing at all! The salesman couldn't even answer the simplest questions or even tell me when I could place an order, but he was willing to take a deposit on one (which I declined). Maybe I should give them your contact info the next time I go! Keep up the great work Tom!

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    1. None of the dealers that I've talked to have any literature to hand out billip, but in BMW's defense the car hasn't launched yet. However now that it's close and people are going to the dealers for info there has to be something there, especially when the sales people don't know anything themselves. One dealer I visited has printed i3 information off the internet and copied it to hand out to people, that's just not how it should be done but they had no choice because they wanted to have something to hand out.

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    2. Maybe it's part of the BMW i Cradle-to-grave sustainability approach?

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  4. Very cool Tom! my in-laws live in Oakville, we are flying up there in few weeks time, thanks for the post.

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    1. Small world. That's a nice area up there. Cold, but nice! You never know, I might be there when you go!

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    2. It is very nice up there and i'm looking forward to visiting with family but if you're there 2/21 - 2/24 or 4/18 - 4/21 please do let me know...

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  5. Hopefully this will shake things up a bit Tom. I'm sure you know that BMW must monitor this site. They should really bring you onboard to help organize the dealer assistance. I'm surprised they haven't asked you to help out already. My local dealer is Classic BMW in Plano, TX and they are trying to be helpful, but really don't have anything but the basic spec sheets to hand out.

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  6. It's good to hear that some dealers are preparing. I went to 2 local BMW dealerships & had drastically different experiences. The one that had a test drive day, had cars with almost dead batteries & wasn't at all prepared. The other dealership in Ann Arbor hasn't had test drives yet, but they were much more friendly & open.

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    1. Sorry to hear that Lindsey. Friendly is good, but how well informed were they to discuss the car with you? BMW is expanding their product line at an incredible rate recently, it's hard enough to keep up with their "core product" information. I just want the customer to have a good experience when they shop for an i3, even if they don't end up buying one they need to be able to get the answers they are looking for at a BMW dealership.

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  7. Great entry Tom! I can't thank you enough for all the help you have provided me as well as JMK BMW.

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    1. You're certainly welcome. It's been a pleasure working with you and JMK BMW. I want to help the dealers that want to excel with the i brand. Those that take the time to be i brand specialists will reap the benefits because the customers will learn who knows the products and who doesn't and they will tell others. If there is anything else I can do to help with the launch you know where to find me!

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  8. Sadly, we expect sales staff to know their product. It's rarely true. I think, however, that people don't want to be bothered with doing any research on their own. They want answers spoon-fed to them. And really, why would we expect information from one sales person, no matter how informed, to be 100% accurate? BMW has information on their web site. Sales staff should be armed a list of URLs to email to potential buyers. Have a few printed out to give to folks who don't want to disclose their email, along with their business card. What about folks who don't have Internet access? There are such people, but probably few who are looking at an expensive and very techy EV. I do my own homework. I expect the salesman to give me numbers. What are the current lease deals, the purchase finance offers? I do not expect them to educate me completely from zero when I may drain their time and not end up buying anything. Yet, they do need some basic answers and some info on where the customer can educate themselves... just in case they don't know how to use Google or Bing. I think what you are doing is great, Tom. But I think easily digestible information is out there and prospective buyers can be pointed to it. Look at how much we all get from your blogs!

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  9. This sounds all to familiar so it isn't surprising to me at all. Flashback to 2011 when the Leaf was first sold. The dealers that took it upon themselves to get educated on it sold a lot of Leafs and the others didn't sell many at all. BMW isn't going to spend the time to help the dealers either. They are independent so it's up to them to learn if they want to be successful. Do the dealers get training when a new five series comes out? The smart dealers will self educate like these dealers that are asking you for help and they will win.

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  10. I am pretty sure BMW won't be pleased about this Tom but that's part of why I come here. Besides having all the relevant i3 information in one place you are honest and don't hold back. Thank you for that.

    Greetings from Innsbruck,
    Andreas

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  11. Hey Tom, awesome blog and my only issue is I didn't saw it earlier - I'd love to know how to get email notifications about your blogs, so I could also pass the info on to my readers on my eCars.bg blog where I link to yours.

    If this blog did not change the way BMW handles i brand I don't know what will. Back in October 2013, a month prior to EU sales start, went to eCarTec Munich and of course we did our best to get our hands on i3 to test. They had no car in the Welt or Niederlassung where there is just one i3 salesperson designated.

    Great thing is that blogs like will make an impact – can't imagine BMW would miss the chance to improve it all for the "i", globally. Thank you!

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  12. Had to check before I ask – found Follow by email in the right column and subscribed, so should be getting messages now :).

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  13. Nicely done, Tom. I'm an auto industry wonk, and I've been tracking the i3 and i8 since birth, as well as just about everything else on wheels. It's good to see someone invested in BMW's rollout who is truly interested in seeing EVs and other alternatives gain greater exposure to the consuming public - I guess it takes a restaurateur to do that. Keep up the good work. And, as a note, Toyota should have just called their Tesla variant the RavE.

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  14. Hi Tom, I'm out here in Los Angeles and had a fascinating experience at Santa Monica BMW this past weekend. A little background on me: I bought a Prius in 2006, sold it for the Plug-In Prius in 2012 and now have a deposit down for the BMW i3 when they get here in May. I have a fast charger at my house and regularly use chargers here in LA.

    I've not kept up with many of the electrics lately (except Tesla) as I was waiting for a car that had at least 150 miles of charge. My issue with the Tesla is only cost - I just can't justify spending that much although I have helped probably 6 or so people here get them. They are beautiful cars.

    When I saw the commercial for the i3 during the Olympics, I went in to overdrive learning as much as I could asap and found out SM BMW had a few the following Saturday for test drives. I was there, test drove one with my kids and really loved it. My challenge was this - every time I asked a question, I got a blank stare. And my questions weren't that challenging but they were very specific. The guy doing the test drive really had no clue. The actual salesman realized quickly that I may know more about the car than he did and ran off to get answers rather than try to blunder his way through. In the end, I think I got to the bottom of most of my concerns but it was humorous to watch.

    If there is anything I can do from here to help give you feedback on dealers in the LA area, let me know! :)

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  15. Tom... when you have a moment, can I follow up with you on this? Bill Moore, editor@evworld.com.

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  16. I work for a BMW dealer and can say that we as a team have been wondering about the repairs of the i3 and i8 when it becomes needed. That will happen probably within a month or sooner after the launch. We have got no training or insight about the body shops or whatever that are trained to fix a carbon fiber vehicle. When the Z8 came out, we were notified of the need to use special repair facilities for this vehicle. I have sold and worked at a BMW dealer for 20 years and have been on many professional councils and received many awards from BMW. I was on this years council when the i3 was talked about a great deal, but nothing about crash repair. Something to think about.

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  17. BMW needs to help. At a recent "test drive day" of the i3. the cars were shipped via truck to the dealer with dead batteries. the dealerships chargers were installed, but not activated by BMW. all cars had to be charged at 110v.
    the cars registered 40 hours for a full charge. The "test drive day" was the next morning with confirmed reservations. It is Winter. The test drive had to be cut in half and 2 of the would not run. Not a good impression.

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