Come for a tour of Tesla's advanced new Auckland City store
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Last February Tesla hit New Zealand with plenty of (ecologically considerate) explosive fanfare. But while the cars were ambitious and the plans were ambitious, the manufacturer didn't have a true 'home' here.
They were initially based across the road from the new Giltrap Group in Aston Martin Auckland's old home. Pop-up displays have since popped up all over the country; from your local mall to the old Ponsonby fire station. But all of this was just temporarily while their new premises — the first in New Zealand — was in the works.
Now, the time's come ... 501 Karangahape Rd is open for business starting tomorrow.
It's been a hard year for Tesla, with 'production bottlenecks' hampering Model 3 and Model X production, big staff lay-offs, and of course that tiny little report by Bloomberg that said the company could be bankrupt by December.
And while such stories have cemented Tesla's position as a 'Marmite company' of sorts in the eyes of the motoring enthusiast sphere, they've also overshadowed some of the good stories, too. Model 3 production since December has been on a continual upswing, deliveries are at an all-time high, and in North America the Model 3 has struck critical acclaim with many a journo.
There's good news in New Zealand, too. Between January and last month, Tesla held 40 per cent of the new EV market — the Model S second and Model X fourth in the registration stakes (both pipped by the Hyundai Ioniq). Admittedly the numbers aren't the greatest in size, but New Zealand's intake and acceptance looks set to increase as technology becomes more prolific and word-of-mouth spreads.
We joined a group of other Kiwi journalists early this morning for a guided tour of the new Auckland facility led by Australian Heath Walker; Tesla's head of marketing and communications. When peppered with questions about the Model 3's arrival to New Zealand and order numbers, he remained expectedly coy — only pointing out that production of right-hand drive editions kicks off in mid-2019.
The bulk of what you can see from the street is Tesla's showroom and the beginnings of their 'Design Studio' spaces. The former is currently populated with the Model S, Model X, and a stripped down 'skateboard' chassis fitted with the company's powerful dual-motor set-up — while the latter is an early nod to Tesla's focus on customisation.
Joining the cars are some of Tesla's other products, as they try to gain a foothold in the home energy space. For now those products come in the form of the much touted Tesla Powerwall and new solar-panel tech.
Though both the S and the X are a bit long in the tooth these days, that didn't stop many a punter walking by from stopping for a stare through the glass. Admittedly, it's rare to see a car in plain sight stripped back to its absolute bare bones, but nonetheless it helps highlight the hype Tesla brings to the automotive party.
And a lot of that hype stems from the Tesla buyer experience, which begins the moment you stray beyond that initial showroom.
Like many luxury manufacturers, Tesla comes with multiple design studios where potential buyers can eyeball different body and interior colours and trims. This can be done in the open showroom, or privately via a pair of external rooms hidden away.
From here, the facility becomes a bit of a labyrinth, with areas all over the place designed for a variety of purposes.
There's a 'Delivery Bay' specifically for customers taking delivery of their new Tesla. Cars are parked on carpet and lit comprehensively from above. Here buyers will get a rundown on what their car can do, before driving away in new-car bliss.
The delivery bay is connected to an 'Owners Lounge' (more on that later), and the service department.
From the road, you could be forgiven for thinking that this new store was simply a regulation two-story building. But like many of the properties on and attached to K Rd, there's more than meets the eye. This is one of the largest Tesla stores on the planet.
The service department covers an enormous space, with the four cars sitting there during our tour well accommodated. Tesla clearly anticipate plenty of cars to be turned over through the building; either as new-car sales or as second-hand cars looking for a service.
This service department is different from your local equivalent in a number of ways.
Firstly, it's floor is made out of bright, reflective grey epoxy. This would normally be a bit weird, given the amount of fluids and gunk most cars dump on service department floors. But remember that the average Tesla has hardly any fluids (save for in their batteries and the washer fluid for the windscreen wipers).
Consider too the lack of machinery. Admittedly we were walking around this department on day one, but nonetheless there's not much to be found around the place apart from various hoists, a tyre fitter, and a few tool boxes. Along with limited fluids, Teslas also come with limited moving parts. In theory, that means a more straightforward service and less need for extensive machinery.
The other weirdness is Tesla's 'zero-profit' servicing model. According to the brand, this is meant to help place more focus on building cars right the first time to ensure less servicing requirements over time. Tesla owners will have a full understanding of the price of servicing each aspect of their car, in some cases without even setting foot in store thanks to remote diagnosis of problems.
A nice idea in theory, and one that we'll follow with interest as the amount of Teslas in New Zealand continues to grow.
But the service department isn't the only commodious hidden room in Tesla's Auckland facility. There's also a considerable parking area for Tesla owners, outfitted with six Superchargers and six less potent wall chargers (identical to the ones that Tesla owners install at home).
Accessible from Howe St around the back, Tesla owners can enter a pin-code and drive their cars into the area for charging. And while they wait, they can hop upstairs into the Owners Lounge.
Here they can relax and grab a bite to eat. It might seem minor, but fixtures like the Owners Lounge help explain the crux of Tesla's unique business model.
As Tesla themselves note, most car dealerships operate primarily for the purpose of car sales and servicing. But Tesla are trying to change that with this new store and the countless others like it all over the world, by turning them into a social hub on the side.
Tesla admittedly aren't alone in taking this approach, but they're one of the few companies where the approach could be a success story. According to their own figures, Tesla owners are 90 per cent likely to be retained by the company when they decide to buy a new car.
That's a tall number, made taller by the fact that none of their current line-up have had a comprehensive refresh in their lifetime — this being testament to the amount of changes Tesla have been able to make to their cars remotely.
Tesla will host 'Owner Socials' once a month in the Owner's Lounge, where like-minded Teslinians can share thoughts and discuss their cars. Otherwise, it functions as a quiet waiting space for those charging their four-wheeled machines in the basement.
This might all sound like marketing tat to motoring's old school, but this is how you build customer retention in 2018 — through a unique and interesting purchase and ownership experience.
As someone who still prefers naturally aspirated cars to turbocharged ones, it goes without saying that electric vehicles aren't exactly to my finer tastes.
But like or lump them, Tesla are doing things differently, and providing the motoring world with one hell of a shake-up.
View Driven's full gallery of Tesla's new Auckland City store below