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Big Mike: It’s a sad thought, but will EVs kill off the backstreet car lot?

Time 10:20 am, February 27, 2018

I HAVE a distinct fear that the seismic shift towards electric vehicles could sound the death knell for the second-hand backstreet used car lot.

A lot of you, of course, work for franchises or larger used car sales groups, and for you guys, the evolution of the car into what is, essentially, a glorified domestic appliance probably won’t affect your bread and butter (albeit to turn the white bread into hipster-friendly grey multigrain), though the added cost of training, infrastructure and special tools is bound to have a whack-a-mole effect on your margins.

For the likes of me, though, it could well be what leads me into retirement. And if you’re younger than I am, then I genuinely feel for you, as you may well need to retrain and your life may be more boring as a result.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against electric vehicles per se. Indeed, I once owned one, albeit a converted milk float that I bought to support our local Britain in Bloom committee to drive around the village watering the hanging baskets.

However, like all technological advancements, the electric car poses a threat to those of us who only really know our way around old-school tech and don’t have the inclination – or moreover the cash – to go out and learn.

If you think this is a rather extreme reaction, ask yourself this: When was the last time you went into a typewriter shop or a video rental store?

There used to be one of each at the top of my street, but not any more.

Those businesses didn’t survive, not because they weren’t prepared to evolve, but simply because they couldn’t.

The cost of moving into new technology that was being fiercely marketed by the companies that innovated it was prohibitive, so instead, they just watched their revenues drop and their overheads increase until the whole situation became unsustainable.

Years of tradition

They were good, honest business people who became victims of the industry in which they specialised diversifying to a point whereby they were no longer needed. And that, my friends, is what concerns me…

I predict that, two decades from now, the traditional used car lot will have packed up its bunting and disappeared, taking with it years of tradition and some of the country’s most wonderful characters.

Unless you’re prepared to furnish your car lot with fast chargers, pick up a replacement EV battery or two with your Halfords trade card and convince the average Joe that the 100-mile-per-charge well-used Nissan Leaf on your ‘car of the week’ podium is a practical alternative to the future’s 600-mile-a-pop sports saloon, you’re fighting a losing battle.

As the car industry changes and we move further and further towards electric power, buying habits will change, too. The vast majority of new cars will be leased, or at least their batteries will, so the whole ownership experience will change.

People will no longer own cars, nor will they want to. I can’t ever see me having a £995 Tesla on the forecourt, somehow, as it will either not have been allowed to depreciate that far, or it’ll be long recycled before it even gets there, having been melted down into mobile phone batteries and flogged off to Nokia cell-by-cell before it reaches the end of its first decade.

When the first commercially-viable hybrid and electric cars came in 20 years ago, I genuinely thought they were a passing fad.

I was working for a Citroen dealership at the time, and I just couldn’t see buyers embracing such technology when they struggled with something as relatively straightforward as fluid-filled suspension.

Citroen, today, is one of the manufacturers making bold strides in EV technology though, having abandoned hydraulic weirdness in favour of emissions-free propulsion systems, along with most of the rest of the industry.

Indeed, consumers seem to quite like the idea, drawn in by the smoke and mirrors (mostly smoke) generated by the electricity industry, which is set to benefit from EVs far more than any of the major car makers.

Yes, I’m a grumpy old cynic, but my idea of charging is taking a deposit on a used but still useful car, not plugging a glorified
hairdryer into the mains overnight and hoping it has enough juice in the tank to get me to work in the morning.

Plus, I love a big old V8 or V6 luxury barge, and when they die, so will the love of motoring for me.

And as someone who has loved owning, driving and, ultimately, selling cars for all of my adult life, I’m afraid that thought brings a tear to my eye…

Who is Big Mike? Well, that would be telling. What we can say is he’s had more than 40 years in the car trade so has probably forgotten more about it than we‘re likely to know.

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Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

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