May 072014
 
Tesla Motors plans a service center at an as-yet-unspecified location in New Orleans, according to their website. (via teslamotors.com)

Tesla Motors plans a service center in New Orleans, according to their website. (via teslamotors.com)

A row of Teslas in the parking lot of Company Burger on Freret Street for a local owners' meetup in February. (photo courtesy of David Wolf)

A row of Teslas in the parking lot of Company Burger on Freret Street for a local owners’ meetup in February. (photo courtesy of David Wolf)

Tesla Motors, a Silicon Valley-based auto maker aiming to revolutionize the electric car market, is planning its first service location in the central Gulf Coast for New Orleans, and hiring at least two technicians to staff it, according to the company website.

After producing a futuristic all-electric sports car called the Roadster for several years, Tesla began selling a mid-range all-electric sedan called the Model S in 2012 for wider distribution. The cars are not hybrids; unlike many manufacturers, Tesla uses no gas tank at all, but is powered solely by a large rechargeable battery pack.

That “no compromises” approach to electric leaves no oil to change, no radiator, no transmission or spark plugs, said local attorney David Wolf, an Uptown resident and Tesla owner. For now, Tesla has a service technician assigned to the city who travels by van, from which he can perform most service needs on site, Wolf said.

“It’s just the battery and a very simple electric motor,” Wolf said. “The car has so few parts, the ranger can actually carry pretty much everything he needs to fix the car in his van.”

Most of the company’s stores and service centers are in California or the Northeast, with the closest locations already open are in Houston, Atlanta and Tampa. The company’s website lists a number of other locations as “coming soon,” including New Orleans, and the company’s “careers” page lists openings for a service advisor and a service technician here. Details about the New Orleans store are not listed, however, and Tesla officials did not respond to an email Wednesday morning for comment.

Wolf said local Tesla owners have been hearing about possible plans for a service location for several months, and are excited to see the company growing in this direction.

“My understanding is that they’re looking for a location, but that’s an ongoing process,” Wolf said.

Tesla does not use traditional dealerships; instead, all of its cars are sold online through its websites, and its showrooms are simply places for customers to learn about the car before making a purchase. This model has faced regulatory hurdles in many states — Texas, Arizona and New Jersey have all mandated that cars only be sold through traditional-third party dealers — which Tesla officials decry as economic protectionism by the gasoline-powered auto industry.

Wolf said he doubts Tesla has run into that issue in Louisiana yet, simply because the car has not been adopted by enough drivers yet. He estimates 50 Teslas may be on the road in Louisiana, with about a dozen or so concentrated in the New Orleans area, but said a physical presence in the city would likely draw more people to buy them.”

“I think there are people who would definitely be hesitant to buy a car when there’s no service locally,” Wolf said.

But as the company grows — a new Tesla SUV, the Model X, is planned for release next year — New Orleans would provide a good, centralized location for Gulf Coast customers, said attorney Todd Slack, another Uptown Tesla owner.

“We’re seeing more and more cars pop up in the city,” Slack said. “If they’re perceiving New Orleans is the best place to put it, they’ve got much better information about where the cars are going than we do.”

Local Tesla owners are also excited about another plan by the company, for the development of a “supercharger” corridor along Interstate 10. The company has already built a network of the free, extremely high-speed charging stations up the East and West Coasts and spanning a route from Los Angeles to New York, and plans call for a southern route with a location in Louisiana by the end of 2014. The stations, Wolf noted, allow Tesla owners to drive cross-country for free.

For now, Tesla owners are noticing an increase in the number of third-party charging stations around the city, Wolf said. Both Whole Foods locations have them, as does the airport, and there’s also a station at a lot near the Loyola campus. Owners typically get a range of 200 miles or so from an overnight charge at their home, and Wolf estimated he spends about $35 in electricity to drive 1,000 miles, compared to the $150 or $200 in gas his old car would have consumed.

“They’re the leaders in electric-car technology right now,” Wolf said. “No other electric cars match the performance, the range, or the features that the Model S has.”

The Tesla has been compared to the iPhone in its difference from traditional cars, and Tesla owners are share a similar bond to other communities of early adopters. Most Tesla owners in New Orleans know one another — they had their first meet-up at Company Burger in February — and many bought their cars after being loaned one for a test drive by a friend.

“We all know each other,” Slack said. “When a new car pops up, we try to figure out who’s got the car. And if someone genuinely wants to buy one, we’d let you drive our car.”

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