The Dirtiest Word In Green Vehicles?

The new generation of green car makers face a very basic problem, one long ago conquered by older makers: distribution. Franchised dealerships have been around a long time, and have developed a negative reputation for pushy, slimy salespeople and underhanded mechanics.

Perhaps that explains why the word ‘dealership’ is commonly dodged. For instance, according to a Fisker press release the company is preparing their “worldwide retail network”, never mentioning the word ‘dealership.’

Meanwhile, Tesla Chairman Elon Musk ragged on the traditional notion of the dealership in an April 2007 blog entry and in an AutoWeek article touting the opening of the first ‘Tesla Store’ in May of 2008 he compared it to Apple’s business model in that it was a factory store where all the employees were Tesla employees and none are paid on commissions.

Is there a benefit to buying at a factory store over a traditional dealership? Right away, the absence of competition becomes obvious, but not in a traditional way. For instance, the price of a Tesla Roadster is not negotiable: $109,000. The questions then concern financing—whether or not you can go outside the manufacturer for financing—and maintenance—whether the warranty allows you to get the vehicle serviced anywhere you like, or insists that you return it to the ‘factory store’.

If the latter is the case, then there is no competition and the maker can charge whatever it likes, and you’ll have to pay it.

It’s just one of many obstacles facing green vehicles and their buyers in the very near future, one which suggests that perhaps not every aspect of the traditional automotive infrastructure needs to be turned on its head in order for future cars to succeed.

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