It’s been almost 12 months since Tesla told us about its plans to reinvent the way cars are sold. Autocar caught up with Tesla’s then recently appointed sales chief George Blankenship, the man behind the successful Apple Store concept, at the 2010 Paris motor show, where he outlined plans to move Tesla showrooms into city centres and allow people to “entice, inform and engage” with Tesla products.
A year on, and Tesla has two of the new-style stores up and running, in San Jose and Colorado. Tesla’s still not making a cent on any Roadster sold (the 2500 production run was intended as a fact-finding mission for making its own bespoke Model S saloon) but the retail price of each Roadster is increasing and a record 190 Roadsters were delivered between April-June 2011, a 35 per cent rise year-on-year.
Tesla chief Elon Musk describes the new sales strategy as “going gangbusters”. Blankenship says each store is experiencing a footfall of around 4000-5000 customers per week, up from around the 200 per week it gets at its more traditional stores.
Blankenship takes an unusual approach to selling for a man tasked with ultimately making sure Tesla cars get sold. “I never want to sell a car,” he says, “as I want people to buy our car themselves.”
It’s statement hard to grasp at first, but it’s one with plenty of logic attached, particularly when you consider how the philosophy behind an Apple store works.
You may walk into an Apple store not necessarily intending to buy an iPod or and iPad (the things that ‘entice’ you in), but once you’ve had a play (the ‘inform’ and ‘engage’ part) you may find yourself reaching for you wallet without having had any pressure applied by a salesman, wondering how you ever lived without one.
It’s a similar philosophy with the Tesla stores, just with an awful lot more money involved. The strategy is about raising awareness of Tesla in general and giving people a positive perception of the brand and putting it at the forefront of peoples’ minds when Tesla’s more affordable models arrive by the middle of the decade.
As for the chances of these new-style Tesla stores in the UK, Blankenship is targeting two locations in particular. “I would love to be on Regent Street and in Westfield [shopping centre London],” he says. “I want Tesla to be where people are shopping and looking for new things.”
Whatever your thoughts on the future success of Tesla or electric cars, the way it is going about selling cars should be lauded as incredibly innovative and, perhaps, ahead of its time. How long before we start to see showrooms selling Minis, Citroen DS3s and Fiat 500s in the same way?