Tesla Might Consider Partnering With Franchised Dealers

Steve Lynch
by Steve Lynch
tesla might consider partnering with franchised dealers

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk told the press last week that he is open to the idea of expanding their U.S. dealer network to include franchised dealerships. This would be a sea change for the factory direct-to-consumer company but we are not surprised. A few weeks ago, I predicted that Tesla would hook up with traditional dealers sometime in 2015. Back in 2013, my alter ego, Virgil Hilts, proposed that Telsa head in that direction sooner rather than later.

Now that it actually might happen, here is how we think Musk should put it together.

During the same speech he noted that his company’s 2020 worldwide sales goal is 500,000 units, which presumably means 150,000 to 200,000 in the United States, well up from 2014’s estimated sales number of 15,000. Between other automakers starting to catch up to Tesla’s technology and such ambitious objectives, Musk must know that the time has come to set up an efficient dealer network.

Musk emphasized they would implement this plan only with dealers who could provide customers with a “really good experience.” In a shot at stores who are lobbying to keep in place existing franchise laws prohibiting direct sales, Tesla said about their possible dealer selection process, “If you’re a jerk to us, we’re not going to turn around and try to do a partnership later.” I think the dealers fighting against Musk know that direct sales will never happen by any volume automaker; they are just unhappy that they cannot get a Tesla franchise.

As an aside, give the auto dealer lobby in Connecticut the award for the Dumbest Reasons To Block Tesla Direct Sales: per the Hartford Courant, they claimed that if Tesla opened outlets in the state and subsequently suffered a recall they would be hesitant to tell the public about it. I hardly think that PR-savvy Mr. Musk, or any automaker in today’s recall-sensitive environment, would be so stupid. They also cited all the poor Yugo owners in the 1980s who got left “holding the bag” when the Yugoslav direct-sale automaker when out of business in the U.S.

Musk’s comment seems to indicate that he may reach out to retailers individually regardless of the brand they currently sell. That would be the wrong tactic. Once a chosen dealer’s manufacturer caught wind of their dealer “dualing” with Tesla there would be hell to pay. An automaker may not have legal ground to stop the move, but they might say: how about a load of eight Marrakesh Brown X6’s Mr. BMW Dealer, that’s all we have this week, sorry.

Neither would it be a wise idea to partner with one of the public-held dealership groups, such as AutoNation, Sonic or Lithia. Those bureaucratic organizations value their own brand name over those of the automakers’ and would subject their Tesla dealerships to monthly meetings wanting to know why they are not generating as much F&I or parts income as their Chevy or Dodge stores.

The answer is to set up an arrangement to distribute their cars through one dealer network. So which brand has well-heeled customers, a track record of excellent CSI, attractive, primarily exclusive facilities, a need for additional traffic to survive themselves, has the optimum number of outlets (275), and thus would be the best partner for Tesla? That would be Acura. If each Acura outlet sells 40 Teslas per month, that is an additional 130,000 sales annually for Tesla plus the huge jump in traffic would cause Acura sales to soar. (Spare me the comparisons to Studebaker dealers selling Mercedes-Benz cars back in the 1950’s, please.)

No matter which sales channel Musk chooses, it will be fun to watch reality set in. Once Tesla vehicles become readily available, their price-fixing days will be over. Musk will be amazed how the customers that had no problem allowing Tesla to make a 25% markup on their cars will be replaced by those who think dealers should be shot if they try to make 1% over invoice. Welcome to the real car world, Mr. Musk.

Join the conversation
5 of 74 comments
  • Mrcool1122 Mrcool1122 on Jan 21, 2015

    Buying the car direct from Tesla was the best experience I've ever had buying a car. If they start going to dealers, and I wanted to upgrade, I would rather deal with the company directly. I already know what I want; car dealers are pitchmen who try to push the more expensive model and having to listen to that is a downer.

  • CarnotCycle CarnotCycle on Jan 21, 2015

    Elon Musk made out like a bandit picking through GM detritus getting NUMMI on the cheap, but he missed out on Saturn's excellent dealer network. They were consistent, customer-focused, retail-type shops that engendered brand loyalty from the purchase/service experiences alone. And Elon could have picked it all up for a song in 2009.

    • See 2 previous
    • Pch101 Pch101 on Jan 21, 2015

      @SpinnyD Toyota essentially paid Tesla to take the Fremont plant. Without the Toyota/Fremont package, Tesla could have failed completely, but the deal allowed Tesla to access its federal funding.

  • Bd2 Other way around.Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the Pony Coupe during the early 1970s and later used its wedge shape as the basis for the M1 and then the DMC-12.The 3G Supra was just one of many Japanese coupes to adopt the wedge shape (actually was one of the later ones).The Mitsubishi Starion, Nissan 300ZX, etc.
  • Tassos I also want one of the idiots who support the ban to explain to me how it will work.Suppose sometime (2035 or later) you cannot buy a new ICE vehicle in the UK.Q1: Will this lead to a ICE fleet resembling that of CUBA, with 100 year old '56 Chevys eventually? (in that case, just calculate the horrible extra pollution due to keeping 100 year old cars on the road)Q2: Will people be able to buy PARTS for their old cars FOREVER?Q3: Will people be allowed to jump across the Channel and buy a nice ICE in France, Germany (who makes the best cars anyway), or any place else that still sells them, and then use it in the UK?
  • Tassos Bans are ridiculous and undemocratic and smell of Middle Ages and the Inquisition. Even 2035 is hardly any better than 2030.The ALMIGHTY CONSUMER should decide, not... CARB, preferably WITHOUT the Government messing with the playing field.And if the usual clueless idiots read this and offer the tired "But Government subsidizes the oil industry too", will they EVER learn that those MINISCULE (compared to the TRILLIONS of $ size of this industry) subsidies were designed to help the SMALL Oil producers defend themselves against the "Big Oil" multinationals. Ask ANY major Oil co CEO and he will gladly tell you that you can take those tiny subsidies and shove them.
  • Dusterdude The suppliers can ask for concessions, but I wouldn’t hold my breath . With the UAW they are ultimately bound to negotiate with them. However, with suppliers , they could always find another supplier ( which in some cases would be difficult, but not impossible)
  • AMcA Phoenix. Awful. The roads are huge and wide, with dedicated lanes for turning, always. Requires no attention to what you're doing. The roads are idiot proofed, so all the idiots drive - they have no choice, because everything is so spread out.