When I was buying a Tesla Model 3, a few article topics came to mind immediately. It wasn’t till the end of the process that I realized I really should write this one as well. There are different phases of the car buying process. Putting them all together, in my opinion, it is easily 10× more enjoyable to buy a Tesla than to buy a car (especially an electric car) from a conventional auto dealer.
There are plenty of generalizations out there about the dealership experience. I’ll reference some of those, but I’ll focus more on comparing the Model 3 buying experience to leasing a Nissan LEAF from a large Nissan dealership and buying a used BMW i3 from a small, sporty car dealer.
The first part of the process is walking in and asking about the car, and probably going for a test drive. With Tesla, my experience matched what I’d read. The Tesla sales staff (if I can call them that) were friendly, happy to answer questions, and clearly enthusiastic about Tesla, but they were quite hands-off, the opposite of pushy. In fact, there were times when the staff were maybe even too “un-pushy.” (An organization that does secret shopping analyses of the various automakers once reported the same thing in somewhat different words. I think this happens a bit because of the Tesla directive to not be pushy — staff sometimes overcompensate in their efforts to not be salesmen.) No one likes a pushy salesman, so it is refreshing to talk to employees at a Tesla store and feel like they are genuinely being friendly, not just trying to hit a sales quota.
Back when the Model 3 came out, I had a couple of test drives. Tesla staff members were happy to give the test drives and were clearly in love with the car. They tried to contain their own exuberance, but it was evident. The car is amazing and they were happy to share that. Overall, the intro to the car from the sales staff was joyful, helpful, and natural.
In 2015, when we went in to check out a Nissan LEAF, the response from front-line Nissan sales staff was sort of like they were putting their hands out, palms open and pushing outward, while pulling their heads back and to the side — they pushed us to an EV specialist as quickly as possible and held their nose. It was like a soft panic — “Oh, you need John Smith. He handles all the weirdos who are actually interested in a Nissan LEAF.” (Not a direct quote.) Even the LEAF specialist wasn’t that into the LEAF. He was somewhat open to its benefits and knew the answers to most of what we asked, but he was anything but excited and admitted to owning a different Nissan (a Maxima, if I recall correctly). On the plus side, he didn’t push us away from the LEAF. He was basically happy to fulfill our desire for an electric car test drive and lease.
When I went into the local BMW dealership, it had BMW i (EV) specialists. In this case, the guy who was tasked with helping me seemed quite into the cars, even though he wasn’t a genuine EV fanatic. He was upbeat, had some good anecdotes to share about happy buyers, and seemed to participate in a bit of the fun with me. At the end of the i3 test drive, I saw an i8 and asked about test driving it as well. He indicated they generally don’t provide test drives of the i8 since new owners don’t want a lot of miles on their cars, the cars are often accounted for before they even arrive (they are typically pre-sold), and the i8 is of course expensive. Nonetheless, he let me have a test drive. That was cool. Overall, I had no complaints with the BMW test drive experience, and it surely nudged me in the direction of buying one.
You could basically put BMW and Tesla at a tie in the test drive part of the process. However, no doubt about it, the Tesla sales staff were inherently more excited about their products. I wonder why. …
With the Tesla Model 3, the online vehicle design process started immediately. (Granted, I had gone through it a million times.) I basically only needed to confirm one decision — which seats to get. I knew what I preferred, but my wife hadn’t studied the matter as much and had concerns about the white seats. The Tesla staff were superb — actually, I’d say instrumental — in easing her concerns about the white material, explaining their own experience with the seats, and offering to have a new local owner show us her seats and tell us about her thoughts on them. The whole process was very welcoming and relaxing. Again, no one was pushy in the least.
When it came time to buy or lease each of these cars, the differences got much more dramatic.
Buying The Cars
We sat in the Nissan dealership for hours finalizing paperwork, watching the price rise, getting quickly pitched one vague packaged after another, and seemingly being treated like a checkbox on the salesman’s monthly sales target. Of course, there were periods of time in which the salesman had to walk to his manager (somewhere we couldn’t see) to check on getting us a better deal. I don’t think we got “a better deal.” The whole process felt a bit sleazy and we definitely felt like we were getting played, tricked into paying more than we needed to.
I didn’t buy the i3 from BMW itself. It was a used vehicle I got from a relatively small dealer that specialized in sporty cars. The process was similar to the Nissan process, but it was a bit more homey, there was much less of the “do you want this too?” or “we need to add this onto your car” addendums, and I didn’t feel as gross afterward. Nonetheless, it wasn’t fully straightforward and it seemed like the dealer was playing games of some sort or another. And, again, the process took hours.
The Tesla experience was so quick and easy that I kept thinking I couldn’t have really completed it all. It took just a minute or two to quickly order the exact car we wanted. After completing the order, I could super quickly apply for financing, which was approved without any remaining hurdles, questions, or forms. Because the approval was so quick, the initial form was so short, and there was no confirmation email, I kept thinking, “Is it really done? Is that all? The process is over?” It was a great feeling, if also a bit hard to believe.
At that point, it was really all done. There were no extra features or services I needed to consider, no haggling, no complicated warranty comparisons. I didn’t need to spend half an hour on the financing application. I didn’t need to sit through hours of paperwork and consultation with the manager. It was basically the cleanest, easiest process imaginable for buying a car — beyond just handing over a pile of cash and walking away with the vehicle. I did eventually have to sign a few papers when I took delivery of the car, but that didn’t take very long and could be done in the midst of setting up the app and taking pictures of the car.
The better experience on the test drives, talking to sales staff, perusing the store, getting questions answered here and there, securing the financing, and completing the purchase made the overall Tesla experience ~10× better than previous auto dealer experiences. If you haven’t tried it yet, I recommend you give it a shot.
My final note of review is that I feel like going back into the Tesla store routinely in order to say hello. I cannot imagine doing that at the dealerships where we got the LEAF and i3. For some reason, though, Tesla pulls customers back in.
Any more thoughts on the Tesla buying experience? Stuff I’m missing?
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