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2012 Tesla Model S
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Tesla Motors has taken on the huge challenge of reinventing the car shopping experience – while at the same time delivering what consumers are used to getting when they buy electronic products such as an iPhone. Since 2008, Tesla has opened about 25 retail stores and galleries in North America where consumers can learn about the company's all-electric offerings, and sometimes a test drive, before placing an order.

The concept has taken off well enough to land lawsuits against Tesla by auto dealer state associations in Massachusetts and New York, and Tesla is under threat of lawsuits in at least two other states. The luxury electric carmaker says it's been taking pains to ensure that it's operating within the laws of each state – which can mean limitations on days it can sell cars online, provide test drives or take order onsite.

For George Blankenship, Tesla's vice president of sales and ownership experience, meeting today's customer's shopping experience demands is not a big deal. He's should know. Before coming to Tesla, Blankenship worked at Apple, where he served as vice president of real estate from 2000 to 2006, and, before that, led retail strategy at The Gap. Tesla recruited Blankenship in 2010 to enhance Tesla's retail experiment.

"In shopping malls, people who walk into our stores, they don't even know who we are," Blankenship told SmartPlanet. "People will be walking down the mall and they'll see a car and they're drawn in by that... We're educating, not selling. It's two different things."

Educating shoppers can mean a few different approaches for Tesla's staff at retail stores – how the Model S is good for the environment, its storage capacity, low maintenance and how its instant torque provides a completely different driving dynamic, Blankenship said. The key difference to the in-store experience: "I want people to want the car, I don't want to sell them the car."

Tesla customers seem to understand that their role is different than it has been for car shoppers in the past. If they want a Model S, they'll need to place an order months in advance prior to delivery. For Blankenship and the Tesla team, the retail stores and galleries are there to expand the hands-on experience to more consumers, no matter when the deal is closed.


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  • 32 Comments
      Joe Wentz
      • 2 Years Ago
      47 years in the business. I sure would like to see that! People coming in and looking at the sticker, sitting down and stroking a check! How refreshing! I hope I live that long!!!
      Rotation
      • 2 Years Ago
      Calling a 265 mile EPA car that generally gets about 235 miles per charge a 300 mile car isn't selling the car but instead wanting people to want it? Give me a break.
        purrpullberra
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rotation
        Rotation: I think you were the one who predicted I'd be disappointed about the 'actual' mileage of the 60kWh car, maybe it was Marco, then this is to him. I'd have to say that you've been somewhat right as have I. I am still not disappointed and I don't hear any others complaining about the mileage numbers being further clarified as time goes on, always going down. You were right, all the numbers get smaller but that was expected by everyone, save the rare idiot. And by the time these cars are really being sold to the public (with advertising and no significant waiting list) I am confidant that many other numbers will be used to describe probable mileage, not just 300 m @ 55 and EPA 265m. They are all just approximations meant to educate more than guarantee. It is stated clearly that all EPA mileage claims are not to be seen as some type of guarantee. There are 2 guys who got well over 400 miles out of one charge at 25mph. If Tesla started using that number your anger about this wouldn't be so out of place. You've said more than "give me a break" before. Not always having '100%' range (265 miles) isn't a problem for most, who have sub 50 mile commutes. Having to take care due to the battery was always something that was made clear to prospective owners, especially if they had a need for nearly all the 80kWh cars '265' mile range (or 300). A few depositors are not going to get the car after all since they can't be sure. It's no more sales lost than any other company has for a variety of reasons. These numbers are being stated with all the proper and necessary qualifications to those currently interested in the car. And Tesla will continue to refine their message as they get more real world data. The "only charge to 80%" for around town/everyday use MUST be balanced with the non-degrading use of supercharging for those times owners will want their ModelS to do GT work. Also, again, it is way too unfair for you to have such a negative attitude about this as if Tesla is going beyond the pale, No Other Car Cos do This! You know that there isn't a monopoly on EPA numbers going down, Tesla are far less 'guilty' of fudging EPA numbers than everyone else, Literally. I wonder, did Elon poison your dog? I'm starting to think there is something behind this fixation, the completely misplaced disgust. I do not see you in the comments on the stories where all the other EPA mileage number issues are addressed. It's just Tesla that deserves to be derided for being so dishonest and sneaky. Come on, give me a break!
          Marcopolo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @purrpullberra
          @ Rotation, Yes, I can see where that sort of anecdotal impression may be detrimental to Tesla. The problem with ardent fans like 'purrpulberra' is by regarding even the smallest criticism of Tesla as 'heresy ', accompanied by a furious defence, is that instead of the models S being assessed on it's virtues as a car, it becomes a politicised debate. The problem maybe as simple as getting used to a computerised assessment of 'range' . Motorists have become used to ICE fuel gauges which generally provide quite a significant margin before empty, means empty ! This maybe the case with Tesla being programmed to be on the safe side of 'empty'.
          Rotation
          • 2 Years Ago
          @purrpullberra
          Marcopolo: I do agree they should familiarize themselves. And yet they don't. I have one friend who is actually in the Tesla intro video (he was an investor and got one of the first 10 cars). I talked to him at a Tesla event and he had no idea what DC fast charging was. Another friend is a VP at a tech company and has a Model S and the 2nd thing he said to me about the car when I first saw it a week after he got it was that the range figure exaggerations were an annoyance to him. He expected 300 miles range and the car was predicting 213 consistently (non-range mode). Now, he never actually went 213, so he never ran out, so you could say he's just complaining over something that isn't all as important as he makes it out to be. But nonetheless, telling your customers they are getting a 300 mile car and having it show up as a 235 mile range car is going to bother some of them. You are far better off keeping your customers informed than misleading them and then when they come back disappointed, trying to explain to them not to be so worried.
          Marcopolo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @purrpullberra
          @ purrpullberra Rotations comment has some validity. The difference between 265 and 300 is not insignificant. But your point is also valid, anyone investing up to $100,000 on a motor vehicle with new technology should certainly spend a little time familiarising themselves with the vehicles realistic operating specifications. I drive one of the few EV's that have a similar range to the Model S, and I'm always delighted when the vehicle often exceeds the stated range.
        Joeviocoe
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rotation
        How often does your 200 HP car actually run at that horsepower level? You may not realize that you are indoctrinated into thinking "peak HP" is a NORMAL metric for categorizing automobiles... because it has been done that way for so long. "generally gets about 235 miles" is good practice by the driver to only charge to 80%. Just like it is good practice to not redline your gasser to try and achieve peak HP at every green light. BUT THE DRIVER HAS THE CHOICE. The 300 mile range is on LA4 (or UDDS). Which is a relic from CARB... the automakers HAVE TO report LA4 range to CARB to receive ZEV credits. Advertising LA4 ranges, well since all EV makers are doing it... no one automaker is going to be the one to tell the truth in a culture of embellishment. It ain't a Tesla Motors thing... it's ALL the EV makers. So, give ME a break with all the outrage over Tesla.
          Rotation
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          I do know how horsepower works, thanks. I know when my car is hitting peak HP and I know when it isn't. It's pretty easy to get it to make peak HP. It is not easy to get 300HP from a Tesla Model S. "BUT THE DRIVER HAS THE CHOICE" Yes, the driver has the choice to charge to full capacity, which Tesla says prematurely wears the battery and then drive a constant speed close to 57mph (no higher and not a lot lower), with heat and A/C off, windows up, with less than 300lbs in the car (including driver) and a battery pack with under 25,000 miles on it. This and also with no wind and on flat ground, something they don't have much control over. These are all the things which are needed for the car to get 300 miles. http://www.teslamotors.com/forum/forums/range-vs-speed-graph As to carmakers having to report LA4 range to CARB, that's true. They don't have to put it on their website and advertise it to customers. Every car marker has to report old-style range to the EPA on every car (gas, etc.) so their CAFE figures can be calculated. But that doesn't mean they have to put them on their website. And in fact they don't. As to the idea that some car maker isn't going to be the one to tell the truth. That's an interesting argument, but it doesn't reconcile with the statement that Blankenship doesn't want to sell the car. Lying and half-truths are a big part of selling, we both know it. So now all that remains is for you to stop pretending that when he puts out these half-truths that he isn't selling the car. purrpullberra: If your measure of a "300mile" car is whether it can go 50 miles, you are going to be constantly thrilled with this car. Others have different requirements. I don't know how you think supercharging can be balanced in there. Superchargers are not readily available. Most people cannot even get back to where they are currently with the same amount of juice in the car after driving to a supercharger and back, let alone add range. Furthermore, Tesla doesn't even plan to put in enough superchargers for you to use them frequently. No, Tesla are not far less 'guilty' of fudging EPA numbers than everyone else, literally. Not unless by everyone else you mean just Nissan and on one car, the LEAF. I don't know what you are referring to of other articles where EPA mileage figures are addressed. Why don't you look at just about any article about "85mpg" (etc.) European cars on ABG and look for my comment about how those figures are not comparable to US EPA figures. Take a look for me laughing at the concept of the Plug-In Prius having any all-electric range at all. You are projecting your own biases on me. I am not a one-company complainer.
        kEiThZ
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rotation
        As an investor and enthusiast, I fully concur with this. They need to underpromise and overdeliver. Especially, at this early a stage. 300 miles, should mean 300 miles in average driving conditions.
          Grendal
          • 2 Years Ago
          @kEiThZ
          Me too. I agree they should be advertising the EPA estimate and drop the old 300 mile range estimate. Maybe even go with 265 mile range "when needed." That would create the question about Range mode versus Standard mode.
      purrpullberra
      • 2 Years Ago
      By the time of the rollout for the general public, sometime late next year when there are only 2 weeks wait for your ModelS and ModelX's are rolling off the line too, the car will have an aura. There are going to be 10,000+ evangelists driving these striking billboards all over, showing them off and the response will continue to be very positive and the orders are going to be in excess of 20,000 cars a year each for those two lines. Then the demand for GenIII will go crazy. I'd actually like to see Tesla never spend a penny on ads, I don't think they'll need it. I can see all of their customers (and at least one shareholder) telling them to not waste the resources since Tesla (I predict) will never have a problem with too little demand. A marketing strategy doesn't mean Tesla have to change much of what they are doing now. They will just need to focus to make sure each interaction with the buying public is clear about who the Tesla is for and why. They'll get much better at that. If Tesla want to really go nuts and fill up the factory ASAP they can mimic Apple again and awe the public with precious ads. The product is good enough and there are 20k customers a year for each model in this society even if the economy slows. With ads they'll get much more. They don't need large numbers just large enough numbers. And they are getting them. This can't really go wrong because Tesla have failed at something.
      Grendal
      • 2 Years Ago
      The title impies something completely different from the content of the article. George is saying the stores are not about selling someone a car, they are about educating the public about the advantages of EV's and Tesla.
        Rotation
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Grendal
        George is saying the cars aren't about selling someone a car because they claim their cars aren't dealerships, i.e. don't sell people cars. It's a legal fiction he's trying to ply.
          Rotation
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rotation
          purrpullberra: Have you somehow missed the NADA lawsuits against Tesla. Tesla is trying to pretend their stores aren't dealerships. This is what Blankenship is talking about and he is doing it to avoid having to close their store in Massachusetts and/or pay penalties. Did you actually read the article? The lawsuit is mentioned in the 3rd paragraph. The title of the next section "Stepping on Dealer's Toes". Here's the paragraph with the quote from Blankenship about people wanting cars versus selling them: 'For its part, Tesla says it takes pains to ensure it is operating within the laws of each state. Sometimes that means it can’t operate on certain days, or provide test drives, or take orders onsite. (Tesla actually sells its cars online, so the location is moot in that respect.) But Tesla’s vice president of sales and ownership experience George Blankenship says that’s fine. Our goal is for “everyone to leave our stores with a smile on their faces,” he says. If the company can make consumers stoked on EVs and especially on Teslas, that’s the first step. “I want people to want the car, I don’t want to sell them the car,” he says.' Seriously, how do you read this and come off not noting what Blankenship is responding to and the line he is walking? The entire article is about whether Tesla's stores are dealerships. And your response to this is to ridicule me for pointing this out. I don't get some people sometimes. How in love with a car do you have to be before you become so blind that you will defend everything they do even to the point of ignoring everything in an article and just attacking someone who doesn't hold the same as view as you?
          JakeY
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rotation
          @Rotation What I'm trying to say is that what you experienced does not apply to all Tesla locations. In Tesla "stores", they can legally sell you a car. And even though the transaction still mainly takes place online, they can guide you through it at the location and help you do the related paperwork (like paying taxes, getting your plates, discuss financing/trade-ins etc.). So you likely went to a "store" (any location outside of Arizona, Texas, or Massachusetts is a "store"). In those three states, none of that can happen. And if no sales related transactions can ever take place, I don't see how that qualifies as "selling a car". Again, think of what happens at a car show. They certainly promote/advertise their products there and they want you to eventually buy one, but none of that is "selling". It's certainly not illegal for a car manufacturer to promote their car that way directly. That's the main difference.
          Rotation
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rotation
          No alleged sales related activities take place at any of them. You cannot order a car from a "salesmen" in any of their states. They "only sell direct". On the other hand, spend 20 minutes in one of the galleries/stores talking to those people who allegedly are not salesmen. You will not remain convinced they are not salesmen for long. I was pitched to order a car 4 times in about 15 minutes, twice by each of the employees. Just because you say it isn't a dealership doesn't make it not a dealership. If you are trying to sell cars, it's a dealership. And they are most definitely there to sell cars, not sell hats and T-shirts.
          JakeY
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rotation
          I think what you missed is that some of Tesla's locations are "stores" (AKA manufacturer owned dealers), some are just "galleries" (in states that don't allow manufacturer owned dealers or they have not gotten a dealership license yet). http://www.teslamotors.com/findus The difference between the two is simple. The "store"s are like dealers, "galleries" are like a permanent car show where no sales related transactions can take place (no paperwork, no taking of orders, no selling of related options, no pricing details, no delivery of cars, etc). All the personnel can say at a gallery is for you to go online if interested in a purchase. I don't know why that's so difficult to understand.
          purrpullberra
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rotation
          LOL! Next I expect ROTATION SMASH TESLA!!!
        throwback
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Grendal
        Not sure what the difference is. If I extol the virtues of a particular car that my company makes, am I selling or educating? Clearly they are selling the benfits of the model S.
          Greg
          • 2 Years Ago
          @throwback
          Educating = communicate with intent to inform them about their product & persuade them that it is superior to other products Selling = complete sales, transfer money, deliver product In dealerships, both actions are performed. In Tesla 'stores,' the first is done, but not the second. If you think "to sell" means "to push someone to buy" such as in "upsell" and "hard sell," then yes, they are "selling" their product. But if you interpret "to sell" as "to exchange something for money," then they aren't.
          wtrmlnjuc
          • 2 Years Ago
          @throwback
          I think it's educating in order to sell. They're increasing mind share in order to try and bring up their market share. Because I think the reasoning is that electric cars have such negative images right now, and they're trying to change that, in order for them to want an electric car.
          JakeY
          • 2 Years Ago
          @throwback
          Think of it like dealership verses a car show. One involves sales, the other doesn't. Both promote the car in some way. Tesla actually has both. Their "stores" are dealerships (and they have a dealership license). Their "galleries" are like a permanent car display (like that at a car show or in the front of the mall).
      Letstakeawalk
      • 2 Years Ago
      Basically, he wants the product to sell itself, by being so obviously better than anything else. Tesla's done pretty well at that so far... But as other automakers enter the e-fray, some salesmanship will have to occur. Tesla can't just take their customers for granted.
        Marcopolo
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Letstakeawalk
        @ Letstakeawalk Very true ! But some people hate the idea of being sold anything, as it implies that the salesman was smarter, or the winner of the exchange.
      kEiThZ
      • 2 Years Ago
      Take 100 cars and give one to every Hollywood A-lister. All the advertising they will ever need.
      Electron
      • 2 Years Ago
      I appreciate Mr Blankenship's spin on Tesla's sales approach but the truth is: products rarely sell them selves, no matter how great they are. Behind every successful product is a clever marketing strategy. At the very least people need to be made aware that the product exists and what its merits are. Tesla's concept of presenting its relatively unknown product in low threshold mall locations is therefore brilliant, and no doubt essential for Tesla's success. I wonder what the lawfare is all about. Is it about dealers worrying about factory stores undercutting their position? Tesla doesn't have franchise dealerships, so that's not going to happen. Is it about dealers wanting a piece of the Tesla pie? Even if Model S turns out to be wildly successful it's maybe 20k units in a 10-17 million unit market, a small fraction of a percent. The only thing NADA can reasonably expect from these lawsuits is making life of newcomer Tesla difficult, so I guess this is about vested interests starting to worry about Tesla becoming a substantial competitor one day.
      Letstakeawalk
      • 2 Years Ago
      Off-Topic: Got my SAE mail, figured this would be a good place to post this -- Hybrid and EV Tech Seminars: Intro to Hybrid Hydraulic Systems for Road Vehicles - March 27-28, 2013. Troy, Michigan www.sae.org/pdevent/C0833 Hybrid Vehicle Systems Integration - April 8, 2013 and Oct. 25, 2013. Troy, Michigan www.sae.org/pdevent/C1125 Hybrid and EV Engineering Academy - May 20-24, 2013. Troy, Michigan. www.sae.org/pdevent/ACAD06
        Grendal
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Letstakeawalk
        Congratulations and Good Luck.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Grendal
          No need to congratulate me, anyone can sign up and attend. I won't be able to go, but I know many here might be interested.
      bluepongo1
      • 2 Years Ago
      Educating customers will increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. This business model might also help weed out whiners who think a luxury car should be priced like an econobox and tow a boat.
      El Angel
      • 2 Years Ago
      Good job, I really want one.
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