From the beginning, Tesla has taken a different approach to selling cars than other automakers.

Instead of franchised dealerships, it relies on company-owned stores, usually placed in shopping malls.

Tesla is now taking that concept even further in a new partnership with the Nordstrom department-store chain.

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The carmaker will open one of its "galleries" in Nordstrom at The Grove, a Los Angeles retail complex, according to Fast Company.

The 400-square-foot display will feature a Model X electric crossover, and Tesla will offer test drives outside the store.

This mini Tesla Store will remain open through the end of the year as a pilot, letting Tesla and Nordstrom gauge whether to continue their collaboration.

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

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

Selling cars in department stores isn't unprecedented. Sears sold a version of Kaiser's Henry J compact car in its stores under the Allstate brand name in the early 1950s, for example.

Tesla says it is currently in the process of obtaining a sales license for the Nordstrom gallery. Until it gets one , its employees will not be allowed to discuss purchases of the cars with shoppers.

Should a customers express interest in buying an electric car, gallery employees would set up a call with an off-site sales associate, or direct the customer to a licensed Tesla Store, or Tesla's website.

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California is one of the states that allows Tesla to sell cars directly to customers, so there is no legal obstacle to obtaining the sales license for this first Nordstrom's location.

Tesla currently operates 27 standalone stores in the state.

Other states such as Michigan and Texas have opposed Tesla's direct-sales model, introducing bans or adding restrictions to existing franchise laws, often at the behest of local auto-dealer trade groups and their lobbyists.

Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

Because Tesla sells cars directly to customers, many traditional franchised dealers view the company as a threat to their business model.

That means Tesla's plan to sell cars at Nordstrom department stores could potentially generate a new wave of lawsuits.

Today, it is possible to buy a Tesla in a majority of states, though state franchise laws circumscribe its operations in a variety of different ways.

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On the other hand, it will help Tesla quickly expand its retail footprint, and make the company's electric cars more visible to the upscale customers it hopes to attract.

CEO Elon Musk recently announced that Tesla will aim to build 500,000 cars per year by 2018—rather than 2020 as originally planned.

With that in mind, Tesla may very well need more stores to facilitate the increased sales volume.


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