Ramon Alvarez Takes On Detroit with Electric Vehicles
Fascinated with cars all his life, Ramon Alvarez is finally realizing one of his longtime dreams: bringing affordable electric vehicles to the masses.
“My conviction and my passion … fuel me every day,” he says.
On Nov. 1, Alvarez Electric Motors Co. began selling three new vehicles manufactured by Liuzhou Wuling in China. The Eco-E Commuter Car, the Eco-Truck, and the Eco-Van, which retail for $10,000 to $18,000. Within a short while, Alvarez (pictured) expects to add a sleek all-electric motorcycle and an ATV to his lineup.
Where Ecology Meets Belief
Alvarez, who owns a Lincoln and Jaguar dealership in Riverside, Calif., has 30 years of experience in the automobile industry. During that time, he’s come to understand the needs of his customers and how to meet them with products and personal service.
“To become a successful small-business owner, you need to believe in what you’re doing,” says Alvarez. “I’ve always had a belief in helping people meet their needs, keep their finances in order, and feel good about themselves. That’s part of the reason I’m in the car business. In California, everybody needs a car!”
One reason that Alvarez is branching out from established brands to offer an unknown make of electric vehicles is the growing environmental consciousness of consumers. He believes that the forthcoming demand for EVs is “a sleeping giant.”
He says that it took him three years to line up the financing, meet the stringent regulatory requirements, and create the business structure necessary to put an entirely new line of electric vehicles on the road.
Slower Market Requires Heightened Efficiency
Naturally, Alvarez’s path presented a few obstacles.
The luxury car market has been in a slump for the past three years. Two years ago, his dealership went from selling 100 to 60 cars a month, a major crisis when your business philosophy is “Nothing happens until you sell a car.”
To survive, Alvarez had to rethink and re-envision his entire operation. “The key,” he says, “was to start operating as efficiently as possible, watching my expenses, and asking more of my personnel. Fortunately, my employees have been very loyal and hard-working. Some have been with me since day one. When the market slowed down, I called on them to work harder, and they responded.”
You Can’t Beat the Internet Price
Because luxury-car buyers have evolved in recent years, Alvarez has had to develop new strategies for approaching the market. The internet, for example, now enables consumers to look up wholesale prices on any car.
“They bring that information to us and demand a price we can’t meet,” he says. “But when you have a relationship with your customer — and 48 percent of our business is referral business — there are options. We are often able to do a solution-based sale instead of a price-based sale. I sell beautiful cars, so I talk about the value of the car, and slowly the customer starts to understand it’s not all about price.”
For the most part, Alvarez adds, “consumers understand we need to make a little bit of profit to keep the doors open.”
Electric Power Is Now Ingrained
“Electric cars are now part of the fiber of the car business,” he says, firing off a list of electric-car developments in recent years. “Liuzhou Wuling has been in business for 52 years and has been making these workhorse, low-speed, in-city electric vehicles for a long time.”
He notes that 57 percent of consumers will now consider an alternative/electric vehicle for their next car — and he aims to capitalize on this market.
EcoCentre, a national electric-car dealership, opened its first showroom in Irvine on Nov. 1. Alvarez plans to open additional sites in Glendale and Riverside over the next couple of months.
Robert Moskowitz is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.