UPDATE: August 16 at 3:45 pm. Tesla contacted us to clarify the remarks attributed to Ganesh Srivats by Fast Company. We originally reported that Tesla was planning a new sales model. The company asked us to amend that to say a new design for its stores is in the works. The original story has been updated accordingly.
Ganesh Srivats, Tesla’s vice president of North American sales, tells Fast Company the company is poised to introduce a total redesign of its stores. “We’re throwing preconceived notions of auto sales out the window and starting from the ground up.” He declined to offer any details.
Srivats was previously a senior vice president at Burberry before moving to Tesla last year. He knows a thing or two about marketing and has nothing but contempt for the traditional way cars are sold. “When you go to a dealership, there’s all this sort of doubt about the process,” he says. “The haggling, all the nastiness around it. Did I pay the same amount as the next customer? Did I get tricked?”
He says Tesla wants no part of that. “We knew we couldn’t rely on dealerships to promote our mission, to operate the business the way we wanted to, to provide this great customer experience. So we’ve really had to chart our own course.”
That course has put Tesla in conflict with other automakers and traditional dealers, who fear the disruption that Tesla’s way would cause to a system that has evolved slowly for the past 100 years. Unlike the Tesla fixed price model, the traditional way of selling cars is designed to maximize dealer profits, as sales staff are exhorted to “hold gross,” a reference to selling as close to sticker price as possible.
It’s not just powerful dealer organizations that oppose Tesla’s direct to customer sales model. Ford and General Motors have aggressively opposed Tesla’s efforts to change dealer franchise laws in several key states. The battles in Texas and Michigan have been particular nasty.
Few countries other than the US have franchise dealers systems. The European Union banned restrictive dealership models more than a decade ago. In Japan there is not a lot of wide open space for enormous car lots, so manufacturers send sales people out to market cars door to door.
If Tesla plans to sell 500,000 cars a year by 2018, it will need to beef up its sales structure. Tesla stores are already the envy of the industry, but Srivats indicates he thinks the company can do even better. He did not provide any clues as to when the first new stores will appear.