Nothing Like It, Anywhere
One thing Elon Musk does not do is run from an idea, plan or a strategy. Whether it’s designing and launching rockets (SpaceX), building a massive battery manufacturing plant (Gigafactory) or starting an all-new car company from scratch, he has not been deterred. This can-do entrepreneurial spirit of innovation and technology extended to how he wanted to sell cars: direct to the public, as in–no dealerships. He claims this process allows buyers to fully understand the benefits of an all-electric car without a competing message about gasoline-powered cars. So what could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty.
In the 1950s, dealer franchise laws were established to protect independent car dealers from being undercut by a manufacturer selling direct to consumers. But since the Tesla Models S and X (and now the Model 3) are on the road, did Musk get his way? Not exactly and not everywhere. There are several states where Tesla is not allowed to sell cars and a few where they are restricted to only a handful of retail stores. For those of you who live in one of those states, you’re out of luck. However, if you do live in a state where you can buy a Tesla, then you are in for an unique shopping experience.
Just a side note: In those states without a Tesla store or limited stores, you can always chose to use the online ordering process, which is quite simple. Of course, the online ordering is open to all. (Most automakers allow you to configure a car to your tastes online, but actually ordering it to be built is left to dealers.)
Walk In or Make an Appointment
While it’s not necessary to do so, as walk-ins are welcome, I made an online appointment and a week later at the appointed time visited my local mall-based Tesla retail store. Located amid Nordstroms, Steve Madden, Lululemon and Apple, this mall’s upper middle class clientele are far-forward thinking consumers looking for fashion and technology in their next car.
The Tesla store is bright, calm and genteel. Two, sometimes three, cars are on display along with video screens and a Design Center, showing interior and exterior colors and fabrics. Upon arrival I was immediately greeted and introduced to an “Owner Advisor”. Sorry, no “car salesmen” allowed at Tesla. I first drove the Model S 75 that, as configured, had an $82,000 price tag, before any applicable state or federal tax credits. After being walked through the exterior features and the interior technology, we took about a 20-minute drive on city streets, a long freeway onramp and then a few freeway miles. The power was instant and the ride was smooth and quiet. I was instructed how to use the Autopilot where, once set, I took my hands off the wheel and pedals and was cruising along in moderately heavy traffic at 65 mph. This technology is amazing and an industry leader for what will become available from all car manufacturers in the not too distant future.
Next was the Model X 75D sport utility vehicle, at $99,000 as tested, featuring the unique Falcon Wing doors that open with less clearance than a sliding door on a minivan. Taking a similar test drive route, I was able to compare the two vehicle’s driving attributes. Both rear-wheel drive cars had impressive acceleration and excellent braking, with the Model S being a bit more nimble due to a lower center of gravity and less weight.
After the Drive
My visit ended with the Owner Advisor walking me through a car configurator: a computer program that is graphic-centric and uses touchscreen and haptic controls. Since the advisor was not working on commission, I was never upsold any features or pressured into making a purchase decision. Conversely, the advisor actually suggested omitting a few of the more expensive features. Refreshing.
Since I did not buy a Tesla on this visit, I can only relate my shopping experience, which was unlike anything I have ever gone through. Talk with anyone you know about their car-buying experience, and you may hear tales of high-pressure tactics and even, in the most severe cases, bait and switch. Remember Clark Griswold ordering the Antarctic Blue Sportwagon and being switched to the hideous Metallic Pea Wagon Queen Family Truckster?
Since Tesla prides itself on the professionalism, knowledge and training of their staff, I can only extrapolate that taking the next steps would also be equally low stress. Tesla builds each car to owner specifications, so you will choose options and packages, colors, and financing choices of lease versus purchase. Price? Don’t bother asking for a discount as Tesla has fixed pricing. Tesla does sell pre-owned models that come with warranties if you are interested in going this route (and they can be shipped to where you are).
Since the Tesla stores are really where you order a car, once you have made your decision pick a delivery date and catch a movie at the mall.
Simple, and you are treated like an adult. The auto industry should take notice.
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