Tesla has opened its first standalone retail presence in the land of the Detroit Three, but you won't be able to actually buy anything there. The electric car upstart has opened a new gallery — it's not a store — in the upscale Somerset Collection mall in suburban Troy.
Tesla last year had opened a small gallery inside the Nordstrom department store in the mall, where it displayed a single Model X SUV. The new 2,200-square-foot gallery occupies its own storefront in the main part of the mall, right next to an Apple Store. It will display the Model X and a Model S sedan, but not the new Model 3, Tesla's attempt at a more mass-market electric sedan. It will also showcase Tesla's solar panels, a solar roof and energy storage unit.
Thanks to a law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2014, Tesla has been prevented from selling its vehicles in Michigan to consumers. The controversial law, which was heavily backed by the state's new-car dealership lobby, prohibited automakers from selling vehicles directly to consumers, instead requiring them to go the traditional route of independent, franchise dealers. Tesla is trying to upend that model by operating company-owned retail storefronts to sell its vehicles. The automaker filed a lawsuit in September 2016 against the state alleging that the law is unconstitutional.
In the meantime, Tesla has to direct Michigan consumers to any of its more than 100 U.S. stores, including ones in Ohio and Illinois, or to its website, if they want to buy a car.
Michigan isn't the only state that prohibits direct-to-consumer sales — Texas is another — and most states offer some form of restriction on Tesla sales. So, is this new gallery showroom a beachhead in Ford, GM and Chrysler territory? Does this force the issue on direct-to-consumer sales, at least in Michigan? Time will tell.