Just paid a visit to Tesla’s London outlet, tucked away in a side road near Harrods. It’s a suitably chic and upmarket location to sell £94,000 sports cars from, but it’s what’s underneath the building that intrigued me.
Cars slot into a lift and are taken down to the service bay in the basement. Nothing unusual about that, but when you get down there it looks, well, empty. There is nothing more than a few tool chests, a couple of vehicle lifts (and a crane to remove battery packs) and a computer or two. It looks as if the fitting out hasn’t been finished.
This is because much of the stuff you might need to service and repair conventional cars isn’t needed for electric cars. There are no fluids or fluid disposal systems because the Roadster doesn’t have an oil or power steering fluid. The building doesn’t need the extraction equipment you normally find in workshops because there are no gases to extract. An electric car has fewer moving parts in its drivetrain so there is less to wear out so the workshop doesn’t need to be full of spares.
It doesn’t need to carry large stocks of consumables such as brake pads and discs because the car barely uses its friction brakes – the retarding action of the electric motor is such that just lifting off the throttle slows the thing down to the same degree as using the brakes.
Tesla reckons its cars need less servicing than a conventional car – no oil or filters, the brakes don't get much use, there’s no clutch and so on. Much of what is carried out at a Tesla service comprises software upgrades, and Tesla is capable of carrying these out remotely, without having to see the car. And this will hold true for all electric cars, which poses a much bigger problem for the car industry.
Many franchised dealers make a lot of their money from servicing cars. Along with accessories, this is a business model that has driven profitability. But if servicing becomes simpler and quicker, it might have to get cheaper. And that could seriously disrupt how car companies sell and distribute their vehicles.