Apparently, you can learn a lot about Tesla Motors at a Ford seminar.

Tesla's unusual sales model--which eschews traditional franchised dealerships for direct-sale retail stores--could change the way people buy cars, a former strategic planning leader for Apple said at a Ford panel on global trends last week.

The Tesla Stores are company owned and located primarily in shopping malls, Chris Riley noted. 

The concept was designed by another former Apple executive--Sales VP George Blankenship, who has since left Tesla--to emulate Cupertino's successful retail stores.

Riley believes cutting out the middleman in this way will appeal to younger customers.

It dovetails with the "Meaningful Vs. Middle Man" concept--one of 10 significant "microtrends" discussed at the seminar. According to Riley, younger buyers want their transactions to have more meaning, and dealing directly with the manufacturer could provide that.

Could the Tesla Store be the automotive equivalent of buying produce directly from the person who grew it at a farmers' market?

That's not how many car dealers view it.

Tesla has faced organized opposition from dealers in several states, with mixed results. Most recently, legislators in Ohio defeated an amendment that would have banned the company's direct-sales approach.

Tesla Store Los Angeles [photo: Misha Bruk / MBH Architects]

Tesla Store Los Angeles [photo: Misha Bruk / MBH Architects]

However, Riley suggested that those traditional dealers haven't been completely defeated--and that many serve a community purpose beyond simply selling and servicing vehicles.

He noted that many Ford dealers are in rural areas and carry on a legacy of "civic responsibility."

Buying from a locally-owned dealer strengthens local relationships, which makes the transaction meaningful, albeit for different reasons.

So will urban consumers prefer to buy cars from Tesla-style stores, while rural buyers stick with traditional dealerships?

Finding meaning in life has baffled philosophers for centuries, so perhaps there's enough rhetorical room for the two to coexist.

If meaningfulness really does become a new metric of car buying, rather than the traditional trio of need, convenience, and price, that is.