Auto Dealer Rick Ricart Talks About Increasing Electric Vehicle Sales and Growing Online Retailing


Rick Ricart, president of Ricart Automotive Group in Columbus, Ohio, knows about selling electric vehicles. He’s been doing it for a decade.

Its dealer group has been named the Official Electrified Dealer by Smart Columbus, a smart city initiative.

Ricart, 42, discussed the program, electric vehicle sales and the digital retail trend with contributor Sebastian Blanco. Here are edited excerpts.

Q: Ricart Automotive Group has been certified as an electrified dealer. What does it mean?

a: This means that a customer buying EVs in Columbus could work with knowledgeable EV dealerships to ease the transition. And then to be able to speak, what is range anxiety, what does it really look like? To be able to have salespeople who are essential experts on these questions of electric vehicles.

Because, of course, there is information on the Internet. People can search that way. But if you are really in the market, being able to talk to an individual who is an expert in your own city, I think, makes a big difference in the mind of the consumer and makes them feel more secure and confident in their environment. purchase of electric vehicle.

Q: How many electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles has Ricart sold?

a: I don’t know what the total number of units is. We started 10 years ago when the Nissan Leaf hit the market, and as we’ve seen more products hit the market, the number has slowly grown. I think 2020 was sort of the first year that it’s worth keeping track of these numbers because for most of that time we were dealing with 1 or 2% of all new vehicles sold in the world. ‘State were electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids. I know that number has approached 4 or 5 percent now. In my opinion, we are only now seeing products from manufacturers that are truly what consumers want.

Q: What should be done to increase sales of electric vehicles?

a: I think above all that it is the product itself. As those vehicles go from 100 to 200 miles, and now we’re seeing vehicles on our land with ranges of 300 to 400 miles, I think that’s what really makes people see it.

I also believe that change starts internally. I myself made the official switch this week from a gasoline-powered pickup truck to an all-electric Mustang Mach-E, and we encourage our employees to drive electric vehicles. This is one of the reasons we have installed many charging stations, so our employees can feel comfortable buying one and being able to plug them in and charge them while they are at work.

Ownership is always the best education. The more we can encourage them to drive them home, test them, so they communicate with each other all day; they share those experiences, and that makes for a more authentic communication when speaking to the consumer.

Q: What digital strategies worked to sell vehicles before the pandemic?

a: Almost four years ago, we had the opportunity to become one of the first dealer partners of a company called AutoFi. AutoFi had a product that we use called Express Checkout, and luckily we started advertising “we can come to you” even before the pandemic started. So our team already had some experience with online and distance selling, and by the time the pandemic hit, having this tool in place and having trained and understood staff who helped us a lot. We try to have everything available online. We have chat functionality and they can call us. The next level is video conferencing and FaceTime.

All of this is also a big help because you can have someone who is at home or in their office who really wants to do everything virtually, and then you offer to deliver it to their home, office or a neutral site.

Q: What about face-to-face transactions?

a: For the consumer who feels comfortable entering but still wants to speed up the purchase, we encourage them to do as much as possible online.

That way when they come to the store it really becomes an experience of just checking out the car. As long as the car is ready, everything else is done and we can focus on celebrating the delivery. It is one of the bright lights that will come out of the entire COVID pandemic. Auto dealers have been forced to adapt quickly, and consumers now have better buying options than ever before.

Q: Do you think buyers will want to keep going more digital?

a: I think you’re going to see that mix continue, and I think we’re slowly going to see more and more people doing things online and spending less time in the store. If it’s 35% of people today, I think it will be 60% within two years.

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