Tesla is turning its owners into a nationwide sales team

The dealer wars just got more interesting. Luxury electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla launches a referral program, with new owners receiving $1,000 discounts and those making the referrals getting $1,000 of their own.

Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Tim Stevens
2 min read

A $1,000 discount on a new Model S can be yours. Josh Miller/CNET

Back in 2013, when upstart electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla was in a bad way, founder and CEO Elon Musk pulled members from every area of the company and turned them into an internal sales force. That aggressive move kept the money flowing and helped save the company from acquisition by Google. Now, Musk wants to take that concept a step further, by turning current Tesla owners into a nationwide sales force.

Tesla is launching a referral program, where current Tesla owners can create a referral link to share with their friends. Anyone who buys a Tesla via a friend's link will receive a $1,000 discount on a new Model S. (Used models are not included in the program.) On the flip side, those doing the referring will get a $1,000 credit applied to their account, which could be used to buy service, accessories or put toward any future car purchase.

It goes a bit further. If you manage to sell five Model S sedans, you'll get an invite to the opening party at the Gigafactory in Nevada, which is sure to be a good time. Sell 10, and you will have the option of purchasing a Founders Series Model X.

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This special edition of the car will carry special badging, and Musk says that he will "personally inspect each one." The Founders Series car will also include $25,000 worth of options for free -- and of course there will be that tidy $10k discount you'll get for having sold 10 Model S sedans.

Mr. Musk wasn't shy about the motives for this program, which comes as the company continues to struggle with existing auto dealership legislation in certain states, like Arizona and Texas.

"This is a way for us to have a guerrilla battle with some of of the auto dealer associations," said Musk. "We actually have Tesla owners in every state, but we're not allow to engage in sales in every state. But, customers who are not sales people can refer their friends. There's no rule against that. It is kind of a guerrilla tactic."

That said, he was quick to admit it's just something of a test. "If it works out well we'll keep going. If not, we'll say that was an interesting experiment and we'll move on." Even if successful, this program will not be replacing any of Telsa's current brick-and-mortar locations. "We don't have any plans to shut down stores, and we'll keep opening stores. It's just a question of how many stores we'll open."

And why $2,000? That's Tesla's average customer acquisition cost nationwide, and, Musk says, he would rather "give that money to our customers." Now, don't be surprised if your Tesla-owning friends suddenly get a bit more evangelical about their rides.