What’s It Like To Buy A Tesla? Part 1 (CleanTechnica Exclusive)

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Image Credit: Kyle Field

Tesla is known for fantastic customer service and has consistently pulled in high customer satisfaction ratings as a result. Stories of Tesla sending service techs to a customer’s home to make small repairs flooded the interwebs and quickly grew to legendary status as the transformative new perspective Tesla first brought to automotive design was applied to antiquated service models that depended on high failure rates as the primary source of revenue for conventional auto dealerships.

With the bar set so high and conflicting reports about, I was eager to see what Tesla’s renowned customer service felt like as part of the vehicle purchasing process. Buying a new car via the conventional dealership model ranks up there with having a tooth pulled, emergency surgery, and having the in-laws over on the list of least favorite things to do, so I was really curious to see firsthand how successful (or not!) Tesla had been in transforming the concept of a dealership into something less abrasive.

Tesla Santa Barbara Dealership | Image Credit: Kyle Field

The first part of the Tesla buying experience that differs from how most dealerships do it is that most of the initial experience with Tesla is typically online. Tesla does not have a dealership network with the same expansive footprint of conventional auto manufacturers. As such, it has to rely heavily on an easy-to-use, informative online presence to reel in buyers.

For me, this started on the Tesla Model S Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) webpage, where I started to get a feel for what options were important to me in a used Tesla and how much those options would affect the price. One thing that’s odd about the CPO site is that it does not show pictures of the actual car that is being purchased. I reached out to Sonja Kock at Tesla about this and she shared:

“We display pre-owned Model S just like we show all of our Model S for sale so that the customer experience is the same no matter what kind of Model S they are purchasing. Once customers find a Model S they are interested in, they can contact their local store or send a request through the website to learn more about that specific Model S. “

For my driving habits and experience in lower-range EVs, I knew I wanted a larger battery, as I love to drive (as you will see later…) and was looking for a panoramic roof for my wife, who loves the sun. I narrowed in on a few packages, and after a few weeks, found one that fit my exact specs for a price that I was OK with.

From there, things started to get interesting. The only option on the Tesla CPO site to move forward with a vehicle is to enter your information, select financing or cash for the purchase, and put down a $1,000 deposit. This holds the car with an option to apply that deposit to a different Tesla within 3 days with no charge.

Tesla Model S CPO Site | Screen Capture from the webpage.

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Because I had already taken a test drive and the rep who I met there was awesome, I emailed him directly and asked what my next steps were. We talked about a trade-in, financing vs cash, etc., and then things started to get interesting… see, the car I put a deposit on was in Columbus, Ohio, and I’m a cool 3,706 kilometers away in Southern California. Shipping the car was possible but would cost $1,500, which seemed unnecessary. My plan was to fly to Columbus and give the Supercharger network a workout, see some great country, stop by to spend a few days with family in Colorado, and obviously crash CES in Vegas. It was brilliant… or so I thought.

To be clear, I could have just waited a few days or weeks until a CPO popped up that fit my criteria that was closer, but I’m always up for an adventure and this felt like a golden opportunity to break in the car out on the vast stretches of highway that span much of the western United States.

I had read about Tesla giving customers rides to the airport and, given my unique circumstances, I curiously asked if they could drop me off at the airport in Los Angeles AND pick me up at the airport in Columbus. To my surprise and excitement, they said that it shouldn’t be a problem, which thrilled me. We agreed on a plan where I would drop off my Nissan Leaf down in Burbank and they would either take me or arrange a trip for me to the airport a few miles away. 😀

The Scene of the Leaf Exchange (Minion not included) | Image Credit: Kyle Field

Later, we decided that I would hand over the Leaf one day earlier, meeting up at one of the local Tesla Supercharging stations. They offered to let me borrow a P90D for the night, but I figured it would be more hassle than it was worth… and I would be getting my very own Tesla in just a few short hours, so declined the generous offer. [Editor’s Note: WHAT?!?!?!?!]

A hilarious (to me) turn of events played out after I turned over the Leaf, which had 50 miles of range left on it: the Tesla folks were concerned, as they had to drive ~30 miles back to the Tesla service center — a trip I wouldn’t have batted an eye at were I driving the Leaf — and opted to charge it up prior to making the drive. My wife had similar plans and had already driven over to one of the 5 standard Level 2 J1772 chargers in the same plaza to charge her Mercedes B-Class Electric. A few short minutes after she had set up charging, the Tesla folks drove by in what used to be our Nissan Leaf and said “you took our charger!”… not in a mad way at all… but to me, this embodied the reason for us to upgrade our range, our chargers, our tech, and, ultimately, our EV experience from the Nissan Leaf to the Tesla in the first place.

In what still feels like a foreboding of future challenges, 3 of the other 5 chargers were occupied by PHEVs with the final outstanding charger being the accessible” charger that I still need to talk to management about…. Charging is indeed the next frontier as automakers look beyond factories and dealerships into the real world that EV drivers live in every day. I’m personally advocating donating the entire J1772 charging infrastructure to PHEVs and focusing forward-looking efforts on identifying a single DC fast-charging standard, then building out a massive 150-kilowatt fast-charging network from there. Sounds a lot like what Tesla already did… hmm….

The next morning at 6 am, Tony from the Santa Barbara Tesla Dealership pulled up out front of my house and I headed out into the next chapter of the journey….

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

Kyle Field has 1657 posts and counting. See all posts by Kyle Field