Tesla’s direct sales model versus nearly everyone else is old news. While I fully support a direct sales model, I also can’t help but pause at Tesla’s latest argument for it.
In an ongoing court battle between Tesla and the state of Utah, Tesla holds strong to its business model, according to Yahoo!, which reports:
Tesla contends it can’t sell through traditional dealers because its business model depends on convincing customers to choose the company’s technology over a traditional car, something that would be a conflict for dealers who also sell traditional cars.
Basically, this is Tesla saying that because its cars are so high-tech and advanced and wonderful, a traditional dealer that sells traditional cars is not properly equipped and/or informed enough to do it justice in order to properly pitch it to a potential buyer.
There’s no denying that the Model S and the Model X are cool cars. They look cool, they’ve got cool features—and, for many, they provide a look into the near future. But let us remember that at the end of the day, they are cars. As Utah’s attorneys wrote in June:
Tesla builds a car. It has four wheels. You press a pedal with your foot to make it go, and you turn the steering wheel to change direction. That you plug it in rather than gas it up is a trifle.
Teslas are not made from space magic. Don’t carry on believing that they are.
Plus, if we really wanted to get into the nitty gritty of it, Tesla boutiques might not even be the most consumer-friendly place to buy a Tesla. In a study that measured “how well dealerships follow sales processes, such as asking qualifying questions and ultimately asking for the sale,” Tesla ranked dead last, according to Wards Auto. The employees acted like “museum curators” based on their knowledge of the product, but they never asked for the sale.
This likely has something to do with Elon Musk’s vision of how each Tesla boutique should be. In a blog post from 2012, he wrote:
The Product Specialists...are not on commission and they will never pressure you to buy a car. Their goal and the sole metric of their success is to have you enjoy the experience of visiting so much that you look forward to returning again.
Have you been in a Tesla boutique recently? It’s not exactly a great place to hang out. There are a bunch of screens and writing on the walls, telling you how great Teslas are. There are candy-colored t-shirts for sale. There is no bathroom. Why would I want to make this a repeat experience? Is this the dreamy setting where people are supposed to fall in love with and bring home a new Tesla?
I’m not defending the traditional car dealership, either, where salesmen are often rude and only want to make the sale.
I think some balance needs to exist. Somewhere between the existential Tesla boutique experience and the sweaty and shouty car dealership on some turnpike somewhere, the sweet spot lies. That would probably be a lovely place to buy a Tesla.