The company does not have dealer franchises, choosing instead to own and operate its own stores. It has also refused to advertise its cars, though Musk acknowledged that Tesla will probably begin mass-market advertising in a few years when it hopes to introduce an affordable car.
Musk said on a conference call that the company would offer a $1,000 credit to Tesla owners whose referrals result in the purchase of a Model S electric sedan. The friend making the purchase also gets $1,000 off the price tag.
To be sure, it's a modest incentive. Tesla cars range in price from about $70,000 to more than $100,000.
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The incentive program comes as Tesla is nearing the introduction of a new crossover vehicle, the electric Model X, this fall. The incentive program applies only to purchases of the Model S, though Musk said people who make 10 successful referrals will get the right to purchase a special "founder series" Model X that he has personally inspected.
The digital sales strategy is emblematic of the social-marketing tactics that are pervasive in Silicon Valley. Musk billed the incentive program as an experiment modeled after something that worked at one of his first start-ups, PayPal.
"I'm not entirely certain at all if it will work or not," he said. "But I think it's worth trying out because if it is a fundamental improvement of cost of scale and we can pass it along to customers, I think that's just really a good thing."