Elon Musk is the greatest car salesman who has ever lived

Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

Tesla reported a stunning, if somewhat complicated, third-quarter earnings beat on Wednesday — $0.71 per share, on a GAAP basis, an accounting change for the automaker that threw off many analysts who had predicted a big loss.

On a conference call afterwards, Musk addressed questions about demand for the Model 3 mass-market car — a $35,000 vehicle that was revealed in March and has racked up 373,000 pre-orders. But that car isn’t due to hit the street until late 2017 and won’t be produced in significant numbers until 2018.

Interest in the Model 3 has been high and Musk called it one of his biggest priorities at the moment.

“The Model 3 is the most interesting product program in the world and a lot of suppliers want to be a part of it,” Musk said.

But Musk downplayed his efforts to promote the new car and said that Tesla “anti-sells,” or doesn’t actively push, the vehicle to consumers.

“How often do you see me mention Model 3?” he asked.

“All we did was a half-hour webcast after we sent out a couple of tweets,” he said of the Model 3 unveiling in Los Angeles earlier this year. “We didn’t want people to get too distracted from our current product.”

Tesla engaged in the same anti-selling practice with the Model X, as Musk explained prior to the SUV’s launch last year. He said that potential customers who came to a Tesla store inquiring about the then-forthcoming Model X were steered toward a Model S instead. And although the Model X would sell for a luxury-car price, in some cases well over $100,000, the Model S isn’t cheap — Tesla sells the sedan for $100,000 on average.

Tesla model 3YouTube/Motor TrendThis is not the car you’re looking for.

Tesla doesn’t really maintain much inventory at its stores, so it isn’t like interested Model 3 customers are, in classic car-dealer fashion, being pressured to drive off the lot in a vehicle that Tesla can sell them on the spot. (And because Tesla doesn’t use the franchise-dealer model but rather does direct sales in states where it can, driving off the lot isn’t often an option.)

But if Model 3 demand is any indication of Tesla demand, and Musk can convince anyone who wanted to buy a $35,000 car to buy, say, a $70,000 Model S instead — well, that obviously makes him the greatest car dealer who has ever lived.

So you want the Chevy? Nah, you don’t want that Chevy. You want the Cadillac.

Or maybe its a Jedi mind-trick thing: This is not the Tesla you’re looking for.

It’s always entertaining to hear Musk go into this mode. It’s the closest he gets to a cheesy sort of “Come on down!” car dealer persona.

But don’t forget, Tesla is a car company. That makes, to a large extent, Musk’s most important job selling cars.

And he’s astonishingly good at it.

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