Sometimes, manufacturer control is good

  16 June 2014

At the risk of upsetting almost every franchised auto retailer I’ve met, I’d like to make the case for more control from the manufacturer.

 But before you cancel your Auto Retail Network subscription, I am only talking about one very specific area of the car buying process, and for that matter a specific type of car – plug-in hybrids and full electric ones. And hopefully, by the time you’ve read this blog, you too will support my thinking.

To explain, I’ve recently taken on a plug-in hybrid car and thought it would be a good idea to have a ‘proper’ charge point on the side of my house. The Government offers a grant so that the installation of said charge point is free – or at least paid for by all of us paying taxes. There are several businesses that do this.

I picked British Gas – and here’s the first important point – at the recommendation of a car manufacturer. First, I was surprised that any car manufacturer would surrender part of the car acquisition process to a third party without very strict controls on the customer experience. I’m sure anyone involved in running a franchised retailer knows what I mean.

Mind you, even Tesla (which won’t use franchised retailers) outsources this part of the process. And to prove me right, British Gas made a pig’s-ear in terms of customer satisfaction.

To cut a very long story short, the engineer didn’t turn up to the first installation appointment. Then an engineer turned up without an appointment (and while I was out) to try to fit the charge point. When British Gas did eventually fit the point, they double booked and a second engineer turned up three minutes after the first one had finished the install. And at no point during this would anyone call me back – I had to do all the calling, chasing and checking.

If you think that’s bad, the only proactive call I did get was a week after the install to ask why I had not gone ahead with having a charge point fitted. You couldn’t make it up.

Maybe I was a one-off. But from chatting to others I suspect not.

So I end up as a mildly disillusioned customer having had a poor experience with my new car – at no fault of the retailer or the manufacturer.

But I can’t help but think that if a manufacturer (or for that matter a franchised retailer) had controlled the process, it would have gone smoothly and I would be bigger supporter of plug-in cars. I’d then be chatting to my friends and colleagues about how easy it is running such a vehicle and recommending said retailer or manufacturer, instead of writing grumpy blogs about the charge point install.

Tristan Young

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