So you’re ready for a test drive?
Then head to the electric car showroom with rival brands under one roof
Traditionally, looking for a new car meant a trip to a vehicle retail park and walking around dealerships. It involved negotiating with shiny-suited salesmen, drinking terrible coffee and wasting a lot of time.
But in the future, the experience could be very different. Chargemaster has recently opened the EV Experience Centre (EVEC), a dealership with a whole new take on selling cars.
Based inside The Centre: MK shopping mall in Milton Keynes, it allows you to combine browsing for your next car with picking up a new shirt or shoes.
Dealerships in shopping centres are nothing new – electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla pioneered bringing car-buying to the masses in this way – but EVEC is the first to bring several car brands together under one roof. It has a variety of EVs from Renault, BMW, Kia, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi and Nissan.
During our visit, a Kia Soul, BMW i3, Nissan LEAF and Renault ZOE were all on display but the showroom floor stock rotates regularly.
Walk into the shop, nestled between a chemist and a jewellers, and you’ll find no pushy sales staff or eyesore branding. Instead, you’re met by a tranquil, open space that simply contains a desk, a few pot plants and the electric cars.
“We’re looking to bring in more partners,” explains EVEC manager Ted Foster. “We may eventually have Jaguar, and we’re talking to Hyundai too about its impressive IONIQ.”
So how did the idea of one dealership selling so many brands come about? “It is here to educate people and make them more aware of electric vehicles in general,” he says.
Giulia Carraro, an EV guru – the centre’s name for its sales staff – is keen to emphasise the point. She says EVEC operates primarily as a place for information about electric vehicles, which happens to sell them, too.
Anyone can walk in and chat to the gurus, even if they have no intention of buying a vehicle. They’re happy to chat about EVs, whether it’s to clarify a question on range, discuss the difference between a Type 1 or Type 2 connector or debunk myths, such as ‘electric cars are way more dangerous than normal ones’. “That one’s pretty common,” says Carraro.
Should you decide an electric vehicle is for you, the real advantage of a brand-neutral centre will become apparent. Gurus will compare the cars available to see what best suits your needs and can offer a free 15-minute test-drive or a
“We’re here to educate people and make them more aware of electric vehicles”
seven-day ownership experience for £75.
We took a BMW i3 out for a strategically planned test encompassing city streets, A-roads and a few country lanes. “It’s here that a lot of people realise electric cars are actually just like normal cars — but with less noise,” says Carraro. “A lot of pre-conceived ideas disappear once they have been behind the wheel.”
Once you’ve picked the model you want, EVEC facilitate your purchase through one of the manufacturer’s traditional dealerships.
But if you’ve got more questions after getting it home, EVEC can assist.
Foster said: “We’re here for people to come back once they’ve got an electric vehicle. It’s about education.”
It’s clear that similar centres could work elsewhere. Foster says: “We’re the first in Europe, so there are a lot of people watching closely to see the impact this has.”
Bringing electric vehicles to where potential buyers might be makes sense, and by teaching them the benefits without the hard sell, perhaps more will be tempted to make the switch.