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Inside Tesla's First East Coast Store

California-based Tesla Motors opened its third retail store today in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, kicking off a rapid retail expansion plan that should land stores in eight major U.S. cities before the end of 2009.

Unlike the major automakers, Tesla owns its own stores and service teams, making its retail model more Apple than Audi. "It's the economics of it, says Diarmuid O'Connell, Tesla's vice president of business development. "The really profitable part of selling cars is the retail." O'Connell also believes that the company's new stores—which will add Miami, Chicago, Seattle, and D.C. locations this year—enable the company to more closely control the brand experience. The two existing Tesla stores are in L.A. and Menlo Park, California; another is planned for Texas, though vehicle retail laws will make that location trickier to establish.

O'Connell says that the New York City store, which is expected to service customers from nearby suburbs in Westchester County, Fairfield County, Connecticut, and parts of New Jersey, was chosen to lead the East Coast rollout because of the message that the store sends. "You can come in here today and buy these floor models," O'Connell says of the two Roadsters in the showroom. "We're here, we're making cars, we exist."

Half the store will be reserved for retail sales, supported by three salespeople, while another segment of the store will be used for service performed by two or three technicians. While the service shop will do everything from brake rotor replacements to firmware upgrades, O'Connell says Tesla will maintain a visiting service team and will enable owners to do higher-tech maintenance themselves. Because of the car's reliance on its computer system, much of the grease-and-grit maintenance of regular cars has been replaced by software improvements loadable via an onboard USB port. Use a thumbdrive to pull of diagnostic files, O'Connell says, and you can send them to the service team electronically to get a diagnosis. System upgrades can be administered similarly.

On its first day, the store attracted several curious passers-by, but the real sales rush may come in late 2011 when Tesla releases its four-door family-oriented car, the Model S. See a photo slideshow of the new dealership, located at 511 West 25th Street in New York, below.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

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