Best Buy Wants to Sell Plug-in Electric Cars

The day may be coming where you go down to your local Best Buy store and come home with an Xbox, three DVDs, and an electric car. The home electronics store says it has held talks with plug-in electric vehicle makers to sell the cars at the chain’s 1,100 stores nationwide.

“We are having conversations with some of the startups,” Chad Bell, Best Buy’s senior director of mobility and transportation told Automotive News. “I would say the conversations are going well. We are very excited about several partnerships that we can’t talk about yet. We probably get more traffic in a weekend than some of these dealers do in a month.”

Best Buy plugs in

Best Buy has been exploring ways to become involved in the emerging electric vehicle business for some time. Late in 2010, the chain announced that it would install electric car charging stations in a pilot program in five different cities.

“This is a small experiment in 12 stores, and it is part of a broader experiment that investigates where this technology is going for consumers,” says Best Buy spokeswoman Kelly Groehler. “We’ve been out there with other electric vehicle experiments, and this is the latest in play.”

In early 2011, the company announced it would sell charging stations for the upcoming Ford Focus Electric, which would be installed and serviced by Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” service department. Best Buy believes it can translate its experience with electronics to the automotive world.

“We can provide the consumer information on how cool these products are because they are connected devices,” Bell says. “They’re a lot bigger than a cell phone, but it has a lot more to it than just the driving experience.”

Eco-friendly auto manufacturers seek distribution

A pair of electric car companies have stated that they will seek non-traditional ways to get their vehicles into the driveways of American consumers. CODA is a California-based company whose plug-in electric vehicles are being manufactured in China.

“Once we start selling to fleets and get a feel of how we are doing, we will start selling to consumers, says CODA CEO Phillip Murtaugh, a veteran executive with Chrysler. “Our plan is to go slowly.”

“We won’t start our retail sales through a traditional dealer network,” Murtaugh says. “It will involve setting up company-owned sales outlets. They will be in high visibility areas with lots of traffic where people will be able to walk in or make an appointment online to test drive vehicles. Customers will be able to configure their vehicles, and place orders online. This will be a no-haggle buying experience. That’s shown to be very, very successful with other brands.”

A partnership with Best Buy would seem to fit the CODA model nicely. It might also be an option for another electric car maker in California. Tesla Motors, also plans to sell its vehicles differently than American and Japanese manufacturers have in the past. The company hired George Blankenship, an executive from the retail industry with decades of experience running store chains for Apple and Gap before taking on the challenge of selling electric cars, to design Tesla’s retail model.

“George has a record of building customer-focused stores that revolutionize their industries. There is simply no one better,” says Tesla CEO Elon Musk. “With George’s leadership, I have no doubt Tesla will have the best retail experience in the auto industry as we continue to grow and prepare to launch the Model S.”

The Best Buy announcement is one more piece of evidence that eco-friendly plug-in electric cars are gaining widespread acceptance, even before many of them actually hit the American roads.