By Jonathan Welsh
Electric-car maker Tesla Motors is opening a new store today in White Plains, N.Y. It is the company’s seventh “new design” shop overall but its first in the eastern U.S. Tesla is stepping up its retail expansion as it prepares for the first deliveries of the Model S sport sedan. The company has 22 stores worldwide, including older-style outlets.
In the last few years Tesla has delivered more than 2,300 two-seat electric roadsters, which cost more than $100,000 each. But the Model S, starting around $57,000 is the company’s first car with potential for higher-volume sales. higher-volume hopes. Tesla recently said it would deliver the first Model S cars June 22 and earlier this year unveiled the SUV-like Model X it plans to begin selling in 2014.
The new store, located in the Westchester shopping mall next to Nordstrom, blends in with an airy retail look that sets it apart from the typical car dealership. There are two Model S cars on display in the store, and a stripped rolling chassis that shows the vehicle’s suspension, motor, battery setup and other inner workings. More cars are parked in the mall corridor, roped off next to a cafe seating area.
George Blankenship, Tesla’s retail boss, says the store is set up mainly to answer people’s questions. Interactive displays let shoppers configure virtual cars and find out how far they can go on a charge, adjusted for driving style, road conditions and other factors. It also tells you how long it will take to recharge, what it costs and how the electric car compares with other vehicles.
The store’s design is a reflection of Blankenship’s experience working for 20 years at apparel maker Gap Inc. and later developing Apple’s stores. He hopes they will prove more inviting than car dealerships in part because shoppers won’t feel pressured to “make a deal today.”
In a traditional dealership, Blankenship says, the rule of thumb is that salespeople have about three minutes to capture shoppers’ attention to convince them to buy a car. He promises Tesla won’t be in such a rush.
“I hope people come in, learn about our cars and buy one in the next 10 years,” he says.