Tesla Takes The Trendy Train, Hires Ex Apple-Stores, Gap Guru

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Tesla Store in LA

Tesla Store in LA

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Super sexy Silicon Silicone Valley darlings Tesla Motors might be feeling a little motion sickness after the ups and downs of its first two weeks on the stock market, but its most recent hire brings a whole new level of retail chic to its aggressive sales plans.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Tesla had already got the art of selling its six-figure roadster down to a fine art. With stores opening on a monthly basis worldwide, customers are ever-closer to the Tesla experience.

But for Tesla, which plans to launch its seven seat all-electric Tesla Model S luxury sedan by 2013, the more retail outlets it has the better.

Enter George Blankenship, the 57 year old retail expert responsible for the extraordinary growth of retail stores for both Apple and Gap, Inc.

Tesla already has an exhaustive work-load for the king of retail, working on opening new stores in Tokyo, Japan; Toronto Canada; and Washington D.C.

While at Gap, Blankenship was responsible for launching over 250 retail stores worldwide for the clothing label, ensuring the company expansion was as energy efficient and environmentally and socially responsible as possible.

Tesla Model S Sedan

Tesla Model S Sedan

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Through his work with Apple, Blankenship helped the company move from purely a hardware manufacturer to one of the most successful retail outlets in its sector, gaining recognition from Fortune Magazine as America's Best Retailer.

So what can a retail expert with thirty years of experience teach a company barely out of diapers?

As it turns out, plenty. The primary lesson is how to make a chain of retail stores successful. The second is how to use the retail stores, quality products and the experience of shopping there to create brand loyalty.

While Tesla already works hard to recreate the ambience of an Apple Store with its clean and functional design ethics, its ambitious CEO, Elon Musk seeks to move Tesla stores beyond buying an EV. He wants customers to feel pampered, valued, respected.

In short, he wants Tesla to be the Apple of the automotive world.

"With George's leadership I have no doubt Tesla will have the best retail experience in the auto industry as we continue to grown and prepare to launch the Model S."

Tesla's sales model is a curious one. Unlike conventional automakers, Tesla wants control of both retail and service. There are no franchised dealerships, no service agreements with third-party companies and no other way of buying a Tesla than through a retail outlet.

Musk is right on one thing. If anyone can help Tesla reach its sales targets and be on budget to boot, Blankenship can.

There is just one concern: money.

Tesla Roadster right-hand drive

Tesla Roadster right-hand drive

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The first Apple retail store opened in 2001. By that time, Apple was already turning a profit thanks to its iMac and iBook lines to name but two popular products of the time.

A profit is something Tesla have yet to do. While Tesla raised $226 million in its IPO, its previous debts and DOE loans have yet to be paid off.

Blankenship's career has revolved around creating successful brand-driven, consumer-facing retail chains. Both Apple and GAP have a range of products which appeal to a wide-range of consumers.

At the moment, Tesla essentially has one product. It will continue to have one product for some time, until the 2013 Model S debuts.

As for consumer pricing? Don't expect a vehicle from Tesla for some time which even comes close to the pricing of the 2011 Nissan leaf or 2011 Chevy Volt.

Tesla Stores are likely to remain the preserve of the wealthy for some time to come. The question then, is will Blankenship's hardest job to date be a success or a failure?

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Comments (20)
  1. from living life, i have come to be able to ascertain the difference between talkers and doers. tesla is a talker. there is always a bunch of hype, etc. i guess it is stuff that people like to write about, because it makes for "interesting" conversation.
    i like the doers. they are typically the strong and silent type. from everything i have seen so far, coda is a doer.
    i truly feel sorry for those who invested in tesla. i wouldnt give them a dime's chance on the dollar.

  2. ev enthusiast
    The car business is very hard. Incredibly capital intensive with limited time value products requiring huge amounts more capital constantly for the next round of model development. Investing in it is precarious at best. I would love to see Coda become successful as I think the more EV's on the roads the better off we are.
    In this environment I would say that doers take car concepts from development to sales, and talkers don't, won't, or haven't. Tesla has over 1100 vehicles on the road in what did they say, 22 countries with 5 million customer miles logged. And some power-train work for Daimler/Smart and Toyota, and Carbon credits sold to Honda. 1100 cars x 110000 is a least $121,000,000.00 in sales. Coda though with high hopes and best wishes has, um, zero. And Coda has some difficult problems ahead that my just take a truly brilliant management team to untangle.
    Comparing Tesla sales to Coda sales, I have only one question.
    Do you work for Coda?

  3. no, i have no relations with coda. tesla has one hugely expensive sports car.
    i cant believe you actually had the nerve to mention that they sold their carbon credits ?
    mark my words - they got a bunch of funding from us taxpayers, a bunch more from their investors when they sold stock.
    it wont amount to anything except feathering the pockets of musk and possibly others.
    tesla lied to long beach and downey. before that they lied to san jose.
    they probably had eyes on toyota or some major car company. i doubt that it was a coincidence that their stock went on sale soon after the announcement with toyota.
    but even in their sec prospectus, they weaseled out of any real agreement with toyota to produce the model s.
    i know the "musk" types of the world. not dependable, not reliable, and dont turn your back on em.
    look at coda - you see no big hullabaloo. instead of trying to sell stock, coda is applying to bring a battery manufacturing plant to ohio, and create jobs.
    you can verify everything i am saying right on the net.

  4. and a year or two from now, i will remind you of our discussion.
    i agree with you that it is very hard to make a car company profitable. coda could go under, but they seem to have tons of potential.
    i see zero potential from toyota. all i see is them continuing trying to get as much money as they can, before they go belly up, or sell out.
    and if they sell out, somehow musk will get his investment back, and the stock holders will lose out.
    believe me, he has all this planned out by his attorneys.

  5. @"EV enthusiast": So, to summarize, Toyota has no future in electric cars, Tesla has no future, and if I recall your earlier comments, GM's Volt is vaporware and will never arrive.
    But CODA will survive, and prosper, and will be the company that brings EVs to America?

  6. in my comment 4, that should have read "i see zero potential from tesla", not toyota.
    i did not say that the volt would not arrive. i said the time for hybrids has come and gone.
    i said coda has tons of potential, and i give them a real shot to play a pivotal role in the ev market.

  7. Stopped reading the article after the third word... it's not Silicone Valley, It's Silicon.
    Talk about losing credibility...

  8. ev enthusiast sounds to me like a little old man who hates anything he can't afford. Thats why he or she likes CODA its cheap and looks like a Buick. I do agree Tesla looks unstable right now, but you try and start a new car company in this economy. And yes the roadster is over priced, it should be priced to compete with the Porsche Boxster, but trying to do their best for performance they are using an all carbon fiber body and its that body that causes the price spike along with shipping it from the UK. So to sum things up, lay off Tesla they have done better work then most EV startups and it's not like they're the only one who took a huge government loan. I've also notice the most negative comments made about Tesla are only made when they release good news.

  9. btw, i do agree that if the gas engine in the volt only runs a generator, that is much better than a hybrid, where the gas engine can run the car.
    but not too far down the road, people simply wont want any gas engine under their hood.

  10. cdspeed, grow up.
    it has nothing to do with whether i can afford it. it has to do with what the general population can afford.
    what good news has tesla released ?

  11. @DanS: Ouch, yes, bad typo. But I'll take the rap for that one, since as Nikki's editor I should be reading over everything she does ... and, frankly, I just missed that one altogether.
    Since High Gear Media is actually headquartered in Palo Alto, trust me that we do really know how to spell it! :)

  12. @DanS - It's a shame all it takes to put you off an informative article is a single spelling error. I'd certainly encourage you to read the rest.
    @ev enthiast - Tesla may have found themselves in the headlines for the wrong reasons in recent months, but they're still very much an active figurehead for the EV market, and as such play a very important role for increasing the popularity of EVs.

  13. ev enthusiast
    Nerve to...wow, that really hurts my feelings!!!
    Though, you did not mention whether Tesla lied to New Mexico before San Jose.
    Please refresh my memory, you said talker and I said 1100 customer cars - how are your juicy gossipy tidbits germane to that conclusion and the ensuing discussion?

  14. My predictions are:
    Tesla will default and/or sell out to Toyota.
    Nissan/Renault will capture the early EV market.
    Ford Focus BEV will be a quiet hit in the U.S.
    Chevy Volt will do OK and GM adds a pure EV.
    Mitsubishi i-MiEV flops in U.S. but sells in asia
    Coda who?

  15. @ ev enthusiast, the good news being that they've hired George Blankenship to improve their future showrooms. And yes again the price is to high considering it's a Lotus and you could buy two Elises for the price of a Tesla, but it dose show those who buy a car like a Ferrari that a high performance enthusiast EV is possible. And I'll apologize for the old man bit, it was uncalled for.

  16. hi antony,
    i simply disagree. i dont think tesla will have much future impact at all on the ev market, and i dont think they are playing any sort of role to increase the popularity of the evs.
    nissan is sure the front runner. if i recall, they have 3 more models coming out, other than the leaf. and there seems to be lots of companies that will be satisfying needs from other countries. this is a world-wide event.
    and while coda is a new company (offspring of miles), they hold my interest because i think they have lots of potential, based upon their mindset, and what they are trying to accomplish.

  17. thanks cdspeed,
    i had hopes for tesla a couple years ago. but their actions have taken me to believe otherwise. i was wondering why they were dilly-dallying so long with long beach and downey. there were rumors that they were trying to buy the boeing lot, instead of just leasing it, so i suspected that they were lying to downey about them being first. but that indecision lasted a full year, and cost them dearly in terms of bringing out the s-sedan to market first.
    they then got some verbal agreement with toyota that made big news, which then got them selling stock. and they also sold their green chips to some other company. the writing is really all over the wall.
    i see all this as one last money grab before they go under.
    i dont think the s-sedan is ever gonna make it out with the current ownership. whether toyota or some other company buys them out, i dont know. but i think this recent partial transfer in ownership has nothing to do with bringing the model s to market.

  18. I do appologize for the spelling error. What can I say? We are all human.

  19. hi nikki,
    no apologies needed. keep coming with the articles.

  20. Nikki,
    Ignore the grammar Nazis. They are just insecure little trolls, looking to prove their superiority. Everyone makes typos on blogs. The information is the important part to readers.

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