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Tesla turns dealership concept on its head

Tesla holds its grand opening for its newest store in San Jose, Calif., which presages its new concept in car sales.

Tesla store
Tesla's new store is small, but that's fine as the company only has one model to sell.
Wayne Cunningham/CNET
Tesla store
Tesla's new store is small, but that's fine, as the company only has one model to sell. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Tesla's newest store, which opened on April 13 in the Santana Row mall in San Jose, Calif., does not look like a place where you can buy cars. First of all, it is a small storefront, a far cry from typical car-filled dealerships for other manufacturers. Much of the store's space is devoted to educating people about Tesla's vehicles and electric cars in general.

As for selling cars, Tesla brings some of its Web site experience into the store, with large touch screens on the walls featuring the company's model configurator. And sales consultants staffing the store will be happy to help place an order for a new car, and take prospective buyers out for a test-drive in one of the cars kept in a nearby parking garage.

Tesla VP of Sales George Blankenship came from Apple, where he created the idea of the Apple store, which has become a destination for Apple enthusiasts. The idea of the store is to create a similar experience with Tesla. It's not just for buyers, but also for fans.

The San Jose store, and others that will soon follow, use a small footprint, but are set up in areas with high foot traffic. Tesla currently has a number of larger stores that more closely resemble traditional dealerships. These facilities will be converted to service centers, allowing Tesla to plunk down its smaller stores in city centers. The next store due to open will be in Denver's Park Meadows mall.

Of course, when you only have one basic model, this store idea works. During 2012, Tesla will be phasing out the Roadster and will begin production of the Model S. The stores will serve as information centers for the new cars. Blankenship notes that the iPod was not available when Apple opened its first store, but the store served to generate interest in the new device. He hopes to repeat that success with Tesla.