Tesla opens first Apple-style store on U.S. east coast

22nd store ready for Model S electric saloon car sales

By Gavin Conway on May 29, 2012 4:57 PM

Electric carmaker Tesla Motors is opening more stores ahead of deliveries of its high performance Model S five-seater (plus two optional kid-sized seats in the back) pure-electric luxury car.

The launch of the latest store at the Westchester shopping centre in White Plains, New York brings to 22 the number of worldwide stores owned by the company.

Americans tend to label what we in the UK would call car ‘dealerships’ as ‘stores’, but in the case of Tesla, the handle fits particularly well – one of Tesla founder Elon Musk’s many strokes of genius was to hire George Blankenship to oversee the design and function of Tesla’s stores.

Before the Tesla gig, Blankenship steered Apple’s retail concept so he knows a thing or two about delivering a retail experience like no other on the planet. He has translated that experience to the automotive world, so forget notions of grotty industrial parks outside town, salesmen smelling of fag smoke and Styrofoam cups of dishwater masquerading as coffee.

Tesla’s stores are located in upscale urban shopping areas and are much more about the experience than closing the sale (although that’s nice, too). They have a hands-on exhibit of the 2012 Tesla Model S drivetrain, a Design Studio where customers can spec up their own Model S, and an interactive touchscreen experience designed to tell people about Tesla’s technology. The new Westchester store will have four Model S ‘Betas’ (production validation and certification vehicles) on display, which the company says is a record number of vehicles for a store launch.

“Our sales strategy is very different from the rest of the automotive industry – we put our stores in high foot-traffic locations so we can tell as many people as possible about Tesla’s incredible cars,” says Blankenship. “Opening our own stores allows us to ensure consumers interested in learning more about Tesla will receive an amazing customer experience from the moment they walk through the door.”

Tesla will open four more stores this summer in Santa Monica, California, Scottsdale, Arizona, Portland, Oregon, and Miami Beach, Florida. But while the Apple store approach sounds very cool indeed, Tesla will probably find that customer expectations differ a bit when they’re spending up to $100K on a car, not $900 on a laptop. Either way, we wish them luck.