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Can Tesla Be the ‘Apple’ of Autos?

Friday, 9 Jul 2010 | 10:33 AM ET

Like any industry, the guys in the auto business like to chortle whenever someone says they're gonna try a new approach.

Often, they are vindicated when someone new to the industry makes a big splash promising a new approach only to be proven utterly wrong.

Former GM executive Ron Zarrella and his brand approach is a perfect example. But sometimes, when someone from the outside says they will try a new approach it pays off and they are heralded as a visionary. Ford CEO Alan Mulally and his decision to strip out Ford's premier brands is a case in point.

Tesla
Tesla

With that in mind, it will be curious to see how the industry greets George Blankenship, who has been hired to develop Tesla's retail strategy.

In short, Blankenship is gonna try to make buying a Tesla a cool event people will want to experience.

Personally, I think hiring Blankenship was a smart move by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Blankenship has worked at Gap and Apple , two companies with retail stores customers wanted to visit. Granted getting someone into a store to check out clothes or an iPod is far different from checking out a new car.

Or is it?

At the end of the day, it all involves a little theater. Something that is sorely lacking in the vast majority of auto dealerships in this country. But Tesla is starting with a virtually blank canvas. It can create some magic with stores that are truly "an experience".

And that's exactly what Tesla and Blankenship should do.

Tesla will not win over potential buyers buying 'selling value'. Nor will it win by positioning itself as having electric cars for the average American. That's fine.

Tesla has one thing GM, Nissan, and frankly most other automakers don't have: the cool factor. It needs to play up that coolness with a completely different dealership. Enter Blankenship.

Who knows what Tesla dealerships will wind up looking like?

I'm imagining they will be as contemporary as an Apple store with the laid back confidence you found at Gap in its heyday. One thing I would not expect at Tesla stores: the stuffy predictable experience you find at most luxury dealerships.

Frankly, I hope Blankenship tries something completely different with Tesla. The auto business needs a breath of fresh air.

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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