Uber to the Oscars? Not for Hollywood’s elite.
In an industry where appearance is (pretty much) everything, one’s choice of awards show transportation is not to be taken lightly. It used to be a limo, then a black car and now—it’s a Tesla. That’s why MOTEV, a boutique car service in Los Angeles, boasts an entire fleet of the carmaker’s all-electric vehicles: 7 Tesla Model Xs and 4 Model Ss.
“Most people want a Tesla,” MOTEV founder Robert Gaskill tells Fast Company. “They love the idea—it’s all electric, zero emissions, and it’s terrific for the environment.”
For $80 an hour (plus tax and gratuities), anyone can be chauffeured around the city in a Tesla. Passengers, many of them tech executives and actors, are treated to a luxe experience: Cars are outfitted with soft chilled towels, natural aromatherapy oils, and bottled water. There are even red carpet “emergency kits” filled with safety pins, boob tape, breath fresheners, and other last-minute red carpet necessities. It’s a natural fit for the celebrity lifestyle.
“It makes a statement,” says Gaskill. “It makes sure you will be noticed.”
Hollywood’s A-list have long admired the Tesla, which has gradually usurped the Prius as the chic environmental car of choice. Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Steven Spielberg all drive one. The almighty Oprah couldn’t contain her enthusiasm and even photographed her purchase of one. Teslas, of course, comes complete with a luxury celebrity price: Costs range from $68,000 to $134,500, depending on the package.
“It’s the new Apple product, the new in-thing,” says Gaskill. “You’re part of an exclusive club.”
Tesla also symbolizes the new, updated American dream. It’s a homegrown entrepreneur story that’s easy to get behind: Here’s a company that took a fledgling idea, made it work, and then slapped a premium price tag on it.
“They’re not coming out of Detroit, they’re not coming out of Germany—they’re coming out of Silicon Valley, which has its own sexy connotations,” explains Josh Condon, deputy editor of The Drive, a site that covers global auto news. “It turned a nerd-mobile into a properly sleek, sexy, incredibly fast sports sedan … And celebrities also very much like things that show status symbol.”
The celebrity factor is a big one for Gaskill, especially since it helped launch his business in a very personal way. The former Teamster met actor Morgan Freeman over two decades ago on the set of the 1995 film Outbreak. A friendship quickly ensued and Gaskill became part of the legendary actor’s travel and security detail. A year ago, Gaskill approached Freeman with his idea—a Tesla car service company—and the Oscar winner quickly signed on as the sole investor to help build the largest fleet of Tesla cars in the United States.
“We’re here today because of him,” says Gaskill of his silent partner. “[Freeman] certainly loves the idea of Tesla and its technology and where it’s going, even outside of vehicles.”
The actor’s interest in MOTEV is unsurprising seeing as he himself owns a Tesla and is quite vocal in his admiration for founder Elon Musk. “I’m a huge fan of Elon Musk,” he told CNBC in September 2016. “I think he’s got the most incredibly forward thinking ideas about where we can go technologically.”
Freeman was instrumental in getting MOTEV off the ground this past September, particularly in terms of connections. MOTEV supplied car services for CBS’s Madam Secretary—of which Freeman is an executive producer—to transport stars Tea Leoni and Tim Daly to the New York set.
Since then, the year-old startup has made significant gains within the entertainment industry, providing cars for movie premieres and award shows. During the Grammys, MOTEV’s entire fleet was hired by the show’s producers to shuttle celebrities back and forth from their respective hotels.
“[Celebrities] love the wow factor of the Model X with its Falcon Wing doors,” says Gaskill. “We did that loop for several hours before the show.”
It’s not just the car. It’s also the staff’s training that has celebrities feeling at ease—the white glove service that comes with a black car company. MOTEV’s chauffeurs all go through background checks, receive Red Cross CPR/AED training, and sign nondisclosure agreements. They are dressed in custom black suits designed by Robeaux Switzerland. MOTEV even partnered with Aecon Global Security Consultants to provide executive protection for clientele that requests the add-on service. It’s a different experience than ordering an UberLUX or Lyft.
“Those drivers are not vetted in the same way as limo companies and not insured in the same way,” Gaskill says of the vendor-based companies. “If you’re hiring transportation to go from point A to point B, then that’s exactly what you’ll get with Uber and Lyft. But if you want service with transportation, then you don’t hire Uber: you hire a limousine service.”
Apart from the celebrity factor, MOTEV has also made gains within the upscale, environmentally conscious set of Los Angeles—of which there is no shortage. Luxury-meets-environmental is a key concern for Southern California’s wealthy, who want that specific touch for everything from their cosmetics and food to how they power their homes and what kind of cars they drive. (The Model S comes with flashy features such as a “bioweapon defense mode” button which filters air pollution.)
The feel-good aspect of a Tesla is a big part of MOTEV’s marketing campaign, which appeals to a wide subset of Southern Californians–both in Hollywood and in Silicon Beach. Beyond industry events, it’s advertising itself as an affordable luxury service to and from the airport, an area that’s popular with tech executives. And in the coming year, the young company intends to expand to surrounding areas, such as San Diego and Orange and Ventura counties. That’s due to the fact that those areas claim upscale communities, as well as the Tesla’s extended battery life. “Because it’s electric, you want to make sure that for the trips, you’re not wasting all your battery power going to and from the client,” explains Gaskill.
Looking ahead, Gaskill has his sights set on amping up a fleet in New York City, followed by Atlanta. “It would be so easy to grab at any of the large cities on the East Coast,” he says.
But expanding isn’t so simple when it comes to acquiring a hard-to-get automobile. Tesla is notoriously famous for its months-long waiting list, with competitor BMW going so far as to mock it in a recent campaign. (A narrator in a recent ad states, “You can put your name on a list, and wait … or you can drive.”) In that sense, MOTEV cannot easily add a car per need, but rather, must put in an order for several at a time, with hopes to receive them sooner than later. There are reports, for example, that the Tesla Model 3 is sold out through mid-2018.
“It’s kind of backwards the way you have to grow your business with this brand of car,” admits Gaskill. “And of course, as the cars have become popular, the delivery dates take longer to get those vehicles. You don’t just go to a dealership and purchase this vehicle. You have to purchase all your cars upfront and then market your business and then go after it and grow it that way.”
It’s a double-edged sword: Teslas are so popular that their short supply inconveniences MOTEV’s growth while also ensuring that people desperately want a ride from his current inventory. That doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon: Tesla Model S was voted the “Most Loved Model” in the United States by Consumer Love Index for the second time in three years.
In that sense, expect to see a few of Hollywood’s brightest step out of a Tesla at this Sunday’s Academy Awards. Gaskill can’t name names, but the MOTEV fleet is already booked solid for the red carpet arrivals.
“It’s a head-turner when they arrive,” says Gaskill. “Everyone knows that it’s a Tesla when it shows up.”