Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Dismissive and deceptive car dealerships create barriers to electric vehicle adoption at the point of sale


As most consumers do not have pre-existing knowledge of electric vehicles (EVs), and current market conditions favour petrol and diesel vehicles, car dealership experiences may strongly influence EV purchasing decisions. Here, we show that car dealerships pose a significant barrier at the point of sale due to a perceived lack of business case viability in relation to petrol and diesel vehicles. In 126 shopping experiences at 82 car dealerships across Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, we find that dealers were dismissive of EVs, misinformed shoppers on vehicle specifications, omitted EVs from the sales conversation and strongly oriented customers towards petrol and diesel vehicle options. Dealers' technological orientation, willingness to sell and displayed knowledge of EVs were the main contributors to likely purchase intentions. These findings combined with expert interviews suggest that government and industry signalling affect sales strategies and purchasing trends. Policy and business strategies that address barriers at the point of sale are needed to accelerate EV adoption.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Salesperson rankings for EVs in the Nordic region.
Fig. 2: Likelihood of EV purchases.


  1. 1.

    Kennedy, C. A., Ibrahim, N. & Hoornweg, D. Low-carbon infrastructure strategies for cities. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 343–346 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Needell, Z. A., McNerney, J., Chang, M. T. & Trancik, J. E. Potential for widespread electrification of personal vehicle travel in the United States. Nat. Energy 1, 16112 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Richardson, D. B. Electric vehicles and the electric grid: A review of modeling approaches, impacts, and renewable energy integration. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 19, 247–254 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Muneer, T. et al. Energetic, environmental and economic performance of electric vehicles: Experimental evaluation. Transp. Res. D 35, 40–61 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Global EV Outlook 2017: Two Million and Counting IEA Publ. 1–71 (International Energy Agency, 2017);

  6. 6.

    Noel, L., Brodie, J. F., Kempton, W., Archer, C. L. & Budischak, C. Cost minimization of generation, storage, and new loads, comparing costs with and without externalities. Appl. Energy 189, 110–121 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Berkeley, N., Bailey, D., Jones, A. & Jarvis, D. Assessing the transition towards battery electric vehicles: A multi-level perspective on drivers of, and barriers to, take up. Transp. Res. A 106, 320–332 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Tran, M., Banister, D., Bishop, J. D. K. & McCulloch, M. D. Realizing the electric-vehicle revolution. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 328–333 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Mersky, A. C., Sprei, F., Samaras, C. & Qian, Z. S. Effectiveness of incentives on electric vehicle adoption in Norway. Transp. Res. D. 46, 56–68 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Bakker, S. & Jacob Trip, J. Policy options to support the adoption of electric vehicles in the urban environment. Transp. Res. D. 25, 18–23 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Harrison, G. & Thiel, C. An exploratory policy analysis of electric vehicle sales competition and sensitivity to infrastructure in Europe. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change 114, 165–178 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Vassileva, I. & Campillo, J. Adoption barriers for electric vehicles: Experiences from early adopters in Sweden. Energy 120, 632–641 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Egbue, O. & Long, S. Barriers to widespread adoption of electric vehicles: An analysis of consumer attitudes and perceptions. Energy Policy 48, 717–729 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Rezvani, Z., Jansson, J. & Bodin, J. Advances in consumer electric vehicle adoption research: A review and research agenda. Transp. Res. D. 34, 122–136 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Cahill, E., Davies-Shawhyde, J. & Turrentine, T. S. New Car Dealers and Retail Innovation in California's Plug-In Electric Vehicle Market. Working paper (University of California, Davis, 2014).

  16. 16.

    Dealers not always plugged in about electric cars, Consumer Reports’ study reveals (2014) (Consumer Reports, accessed 20 November 2017);

  17. 17.

    Matthews, L., Lynes, J., Riemer, M., Del Matto, T. & Cloet, N. Do we have a car for you? Encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles at point of sale. Energy Policy 100, 79–88 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Axsen, J., Goldberg, S. & Bailey, J. How might potential future plug-in electric vehicle buyers differ from current ‘Pioneer’ owners? Transp. Res. D 47, 357–370 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Axsen, J., Bailey, J. & Castro, M. A. Preference and lifestyle heterogeneity among potential plug-in electric vehicle buyers. Energy Econ. 50, 190–201 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Overview of Incentives for Buying Electric Vehicles. 2016–2019 (ACEA - European Automobile Manufacturers Association, 2017).

  21. 21.

    Levering, P. Denmark is killing Tesla (and other electric cars). Bloomberg (2017).

  22. 22.

    Kester, J., Noel, L., Zarazua de Rubens, G. & Sovacool, B. K. Promoting vehicle to grid (V2G) in the Nordic region: Expert advice on policy mechanisms for accelerated diffusion. Energy Policy 116, 422–432 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Sovacool, B. K., Kester, J., Zarazua de Rubens, G. & Noel, L. Expert perceptions of low-carbon transitions: Investigating the challenges of electricity decarbonisation in the Nordic region. Energy 148, 1162–1172 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Den Nye e-Golf (Volkswagen Denmark, 2017);

  25. 25.

    Mersha, T. & Adlakha, V. Attributes of Service Quality: The Consumers’ Perspective. Int. J. Serv. Ind. Manag 3, 34–45 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Noel, L., Zarazua de Rubens, G., Kester, J. & Sovacool, B. The Status and Challenges of Electric Vehicles in Finland- 2017 (Aarhus University, 2017).

  27. 27.

    Electric car sales grinding to a halt in Denmark. CPH Post Online (2017).

  28. 28.

    Nykvist, B. & Nilsson, M. The EV paradox - A multilevel study of why Stockholm is not a leader in electric vehicles. Environ. Innov. Soc. Transit. 14, 26–44 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Wilson, A. M. The role of mystery shopping in the measurement of service performance. Manag. Serv. Qual. Int. J. 8, 414–420 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Kwet Shing, M. & Spence, L. J. Investigating the limits of competitive intelligence gathering: is mystery shopping ethical? Bus. Ethics 11, 343–353 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Finn, A. & Kayandé, U. Unmasking a phantom: a psychometric assessment of mystery shopping. J. Retail. 75, 195–217 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Burnham, K. P. & Anderson, D. R. Model Selection and Multimodel Inference: A Practical Information–Theoretic Approach (Springer-Verlag, New York, 2003).

Download references


The authors are grateful to X. Lin and K. Probert for support in conducting some of the mystery shopping visits at dealerships. The authors are grateful to the Research Councils United Kingdom (RCUK) Energy Program Grant EP/K011790/1 ‘Center on Innovation and Energy Demand’, and the Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF) Sapere Aude grant 4182-00033B ‘Societal Implications of a Vehicle-to-Grid Transition in Northern Europe’, which have supported elements of the work reported here. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the RCUK Energy Program or the DFF. This project has also received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 730403 ‘Innovation pathways, strategies and policies for the Low-Carbon Transition in Europe (INNOPATHS)’. The content of this deliverable does not reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Responsibility for the information and views expressed herein lies entirely with the authors.

Author information




The idea and design for the research was co-developed by all authors. G.Z.d.R led the implementation of the study. G.Z.d.R and L.N. conducted all field research and data analysis. All authors contributed to writing the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gerardo Zarazua de Rubens.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

G.Z.R. and B.K.S. declare no competing financial interests. L.N. has a competing financial interest as a consultant in a start-up company that is establishing businesses to provide grid services from EVs. B.K.S. is on the editorial advisory board of Nature Energy.

Additional information

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–7, Supplementary References, Supplementary Notes

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Zarazua de Rubens, G., Noel, L. & Sovacool, B.K. Dismissive and deceptive car dealerships create barriers to electric vehicle adoption at the point of sale. Nat Energy 3, 501–507 (2018).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links