Energy Transition New York

Tesla: The gateway to the electric vehicle for mainstream America

Last week, I visited NYC’s Tesla store. Located in NYC’s posh Meatpacking District, it’s airy, open space design, and track lighting made the store unlike any car dealership I’d ever seen. Part gallery, part design studio; Tesla’s Model S and Roadster were on display like pieces of art with an entire wall devoted to the different design options available to new owners.

Like many Americans, the Tesla store was my first encounter with the electric vehicle. Even with their extremely low maintenance cost, environmental benefit, and heightened driving experience, electric vehicles (both plug-in hybrids and battery-operated) only make up about .03% of the US automobile market. The upfront cost and lack of charging infrastructure prevent many Americans from making the switch. Additionally, a general lack of information about electric vehicle technology deter wide-scale adoption.

However, Telsa’s sleek stores located in upscale shopping malls and districts throughout the US provide an inviting gateway for mainstream America to familiarize themselves with electric vehicles. Tesla owns and operates all its retail locations removing the barrier of unenthusiastic dealers who may not want to take the time to explain the new technology to unfamiliar consumers.

Simultaneously,Tesla is tackling “range anxiety”- the fear that drivers will get stranded because of a lack of charging infrastructure - through its coast-to-coast network of superchargers.  Last month, two Model S's commemorated the completion of the first phase of Tesla’s Supercharger network by driving cross-country from Los Angeles to New York in 76 hours and 5 minutes. Tesla plans to double the number of supercharger locations before the end of 2014.

Still, starting at $62,400, the Model S remains a luxury out of reach for most Americans. This may change as Tesla's long-term strategy is to produce a more affordable electric vehicle. They recently announced plans to release a third-generation, less expensive model at the 2015 Detroit Autoshow. Industry experts anticipate the 2015 car will be priced in the $30,000 to $40,000 range.

Even with its luxury price tag, Tesla is not having any trouble gaining customers.  Tesla’s second-generation, Model X, an all-electric SUV, is due out at the end of the year. And as the salesgirl told me, 8,000 people have already put down a deposit.


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