In addition to reinventing the automobile by bringing electric propulsion to the masses with its forthcoming Model 3, Tesla has also been furiously revamping the way we buy cars.
The latest salvo involves a half-dozen Model X SUVs towing Airstream trailers that have been outfitted as rolling Tesla design studios.
“Like all Tesla galleries, the mobile Airstream fleet will be staffed with Tesla product specialists, combining Tesla’s friendly, informative approach and best-in-class customer service with the opportunity for customers to see Model X first-hand and design a Tesla of their own,” the automaker said in a statement.
As with the pop-up galleries that Tesla has opened for brief periods in the past — there was one in New York’s chic Hamptons vacation community last year — the Model X-plus-Airstream idea literally drips cool. When the crossover SUV was launched in 2015, it of course pulled a retro-groovy Airstream on stage, to showcase its 5,000-pound towing capacity. It was a deft combination of the classic — the first Airstream trailers went on sale in the 1930s — and the futuristic.
That was art direction; this is marketing, something Tesla needs. Historically, the startup has done almost no advertising, but it wants the Model X to post better sales numbers, catching up to the Model S sedan. The crossover SUV market is white hot right now, and Tesla requires profits from that segment to fuel the debut of the Model 3, scheduled to hit the road in 2017.
The Model X should be able to bring in plenty of money — like the Model S, it’s pricing sweetspot is around $100,000 — but production has been beset with delays due to the Tesla-admitted over-complexity of the design, which features exotic, upswinging “falcon wing” doors and rear seats intended to evoke sculpture.
Additionally, this itinerant approach to Model X customisation fits with Tesla’s disruptive retail philosophy. For years, the company has been waging a slow-burning war against the entrenched national network of traditional franchise car dealers, winning some state-by-state exceptions to laws that govern who can sell cars and how.
Tesla wants to sell vehicles directly to customers, cutting out the middlemen. The middlemen, understandably, want none of that.
For now, the battle grinds on, and Tesla continues to come up with interesting workarounds. If you happen to be in New York City on Wednesday, you can head over to the 1 Hotel near Central Park, where the Model X and its Airstream studio will be camping out.
And, through Tesla’s website, customers can request a special Model X/Airstream visit, presumably bringing the Tesla design experience to their driveway.