Rick Hendrick Says You Can’t Force Customers to Buy EVs If They Don’t Want ‘Em

Mega car dealer and NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick thinks the “EV market will be there one day, but we’re not ready for it.”

byNico DeMattia|
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You already know by now that electric vehicles are becoming more and more commonplace. Nearly every automaker sells at least one battery electric model, and then there are dedicated EV brands like Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid right here in the United States. However, that doesn't mean they're for everyone and it doesn't mean selling EVs is easy, as legendary NASCAR team owner and mega car dealer Rick Hendrick will tell you.

"The customer is going to dictate what you build. I’ve been in the automobile business for almost 50 years, and you can’t force customers to buy what they don’t want," Hendrick told Basem Wasef in a recent interview with Robb Report. "We were too aggressive with the EV market ... I think the EV market will be there one day, but we’re not ready for it."

Lexus RZ. Lexus

There's certainly some truth to that, as electric vehicles simply don't fit the bill for everyone's lives yet. Almost all legacy car brands like Mercedes, Audi, and even Lexus as Hendrick mentioned, are struggling to sell EVs at anywhere near the same pace as their standard cars.

"I’ve got dealerships in the [Northern California] Bay Area, and selling a Lexus EV versus a Lexus hybrid—we’ve got a waiting list for the hybrids and have to put big discounts on the EVs," added Hendrick. "Mercedes came out with all these [EV] models—I’m a Mercedes dealer and we had a horrible year. And in some cases, with Audi and others, you had a $25,000 rebate to get a customer to buy a car and they still wouldn’t buy it. I mean, you just can’t force people to buy what they don’t want."

Of course, there's more to the story. While Hendrick is a massively successful car dealer with over 100 dealers and 10,000 employees, his experience selling EVs is mostly with legacy or luxury companies. By contrast, Tesla sells hundreds of thousands of EVs every year, Rivian sold over 50,000 EVs, and even Ford had its best Mustang Mach-E sales year in 2023, with more than 41,000 people bringing one home. Those aren't anywhere near the sales figures of popular internal combustion engine cars but they prove that there is a big market for EVs.

Tesla Model 3 Highland. Tesla

Not only are the brands that Hendrick mentioned expensive, which narrows their clientele base but they aren't positioned as EV leaders. Mercedes' EV design language was so unloved that it decided to move away from it just a few years after its introduction. Audi's E-Tron models lacked range for a long time while costing just as much as Tesla, if not more. Lexus only has one fully electric model, the RZ, which is small and odd-looking compared to its very popular hybrid RX models that are similarly priced.

In the end, Hendrick knows a thing or two because he's seen a thing or two over his career. The EV adoption rate in America is still quite low, as just 8.6% of new car customers bought electric cars in 2023, according to JD Power. So selling them will be a struggle for dealers, especially compared to other models, for years to come. There are also issues of charging infrastructure and energy costs that need to adjust as EVs slowly become more mainstream.

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