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Tesla shifts to online-only sales, will close stores to drive vehicle costs down

Tesla will be closing some of its retail store locations in favor of pivoting to an online-only sales model. The news comes as the company launches the long-awaited $35,000 Tesla Model 3 and maintains focus on cost efficiencies, and cost reductions for its entire fleet of all-electric vehicles. “We’re moving all sales online…Worldwide, the only way to buy a Tesla will be online,” said CEO Elon Musk during a press call on Thursday afternoon.

Some Tesla galleries will remain open to allow customers to see and experience its all-electric vehicles before buying, but online purchases coupled with a revamped deposit, return, and refund process will be the primary platform for Tesla sales moving forward.

The online-only sales model looks to serve the main purpose of cutting costs to enable the $35,000 Standard Range Tesla Model 3 vehicle to exist at that price point. When asked whether the shuttering of retail locations would lead to staff layoffs, Musk was honest about that reality.

“We will be closing some stores, and there will be a reduction in headcount…Unfortunately, there’s no way around it,” he said. “We’re sort of in a binary choice. Reduce headcount and sell the $35,000 car and have fewer people, or not provide a $35,000 car.” The CEO also cited a 5-6% reduction in costs from transitioning to the online-only sales and that the savings would translate to a reduction in the price of the Model X and S vehicles as well.

Original Tesla Roadster on display at Cherry Hill, NJ Tesla showroom [Credit: @vivivandeerlin via Twitter]

Tesla’s solution to the franchise problem now is apparently to eschew in-person sales altogether. Whether this move is best described as defying convention or ignoring convention entirely is perhaps a matter of perspective, but the outcome is the same. Where Tesla had already cut out the traditional middleman dealer in its sales transactions, now it’s even cutting out the traditional sales person and pitch.

“I’m sure the franchise dealers will try to oppose us in some way, but to do so would be a fundamental restraint on interstate commerce and violate the Constitution. So, good luck with that,” Musk commented on the legal issue during the Q&A portion of Thursday’s call.

Tesla aims to make the buying process as frictionless as possible through a streamlined version of its online vehicle configurator. Musk explained,

“You can buy your car on your phone in about 1 minute in the US, and we will make it just as easy to [make] a 1 minute purchase in other countries as well,”

The ability to purchase a Tesla via the company’s website was already available before the announcement and making the full shift towards an online-only buying experience will have a negligible impact on consumers. “It’s 2019. People just want to buy things online.”

To compensate for losing the test drive component that’s associated with a physical sales locations, Tesla has extended its return policy to 7 days and up to 1,000 miles driven after making a $1,000 deposit, during which time a customer can obtain a full refund.

The retail closure announcement was piggybacked onto the main Tesla announcement of the day, anticipation having been built following a series of Tweets hinting at big news two days prior: Tesla’s $35k Model 3 has finally arrived, offering a 220-mile range and new interior options. The car’s 0-60 mph time is 5.6 seconds with a top speed of 130 mph. According to Tesla’s online configurator, the lowest priced variant is estimated to have a final cost of around $25,000 after tax credits and gas savings. Deliveries can be expected within 2-4 weeks from the purchase date.

With this long-time-coming “affordable EV” milestone finally under Tesla’s belt, its future is certainly going to become evermore exciting with the new possibilities it will enable.

Tesla shifts to online-only sales, will close stores to drive vehicle costs down
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