Tesla Eyes Some Apple Love for Its Stores

They say mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, and at this point, Apple has got to be downright blushing. Tesla Motors, the electric car maker that has taken pains to distance itself from auto companies and cultivate an image as a tech innovator (like Google! Apple!), has now hired Apple’s former real estate chief George Blankenship to head up development of Tesla’s retail strategy and network.

Rather than following the more common dealership franchise model, Tesla uses showrooms modeled after Apple stores to show off its vehicles, bring in deposits, make sales and eventually service the cars. As TheAppleBlog has put it, Apple stores are so compelling because of the overall  experience, from the customer service (which Apple calls “surprise and delight”) to the stores’ roomy interiors and bright lighting, to ubiquitous in-store Wi-Fi. Apple’s stores are part of the reason why according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index survey (PDF), the company beats its closest competitors by a good 10 points.

Tesla’s stores don’t come cheap (can’t imagine Blankenship did, either), since the company targets high-income customers in upscale real estate markets like Manhattan, Los Angeles and London. According to Tesla’s announcement today, Blankenship will initially be working on stores in Tokyo, Toronto and Washington, D.C.

When Apple opened its first store back in 2001, it had a goal to eventually put an Apple store within driving distance of 85 percent of consumers in the U.S. In 2009, Apple opened more international stores than domestic ones and intends to open at least one Apple store in one new country a year. Of course Tesla has just recently gone public and doesn’t have the kind of cash for such an aggressive domestic and international expansion. But according to Tesla’s filing, it expects to use a portion of the IPO proceeds to fund expansion of Tesla stores, which it estimates will cost “approximately $5 million during the year ended December 31, 2010, and an additional $5 million to $10 million annually over the next several years thereafter to establish approximately 50 stores globally.”

Image courtesy of Tesla Motors

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