One of the biggest stories in the automotive industry right now is Tesla’s announcement that it is shifting its business model in the US (and around the world eventually) to strictly online car-selling. In other words, the American electric vehicle manufacturer is shutting down its physical stores in favor of an all-encompassing digital one.
The main reason for this, according to a statement published on the company’s Web site, is so that car prices may be reduced by “about 6% on average.” The firm claims that once the system is in place, any person in America can purchase a Tesla car using just a smartphone, and that the whole process could be done in a mere minute. What this basically purports is that Tesla buyers will soon be able to buy a brand-new vehicle faster than it takes a Starbucks customer to get coffee. Or as quick as Donald Trump reportedly ejaculates.
Now, it’s not as if Tesla has a lot of conventional brick-and-mortar dealership facilities. Many of its outlets, in fact, are boutique stores found inside shopping malls. I know this because I used to frequent one whenever I visited my parents in New Jersey. So a modern car company that has already been employing a modern selling strategy seemingly can’t make it work and still needs to adopt an even more modern scheme. Which is online retail, thanks in large part to Amazon and the inherent laziness of consumers to haul their obesity out of the house to personally inspect the goods they’re spending their hard-earned money on.
But while I understand the allure of ordering groceries and books and shirts over the Internet, I don’t see the wisdom of acquiring an automobile with just your laptop and Wi-Fi connection. Just the other day, I ordered four boxes of pizza online for a client meeting. It made a lot of sense. Instead of stepping out and having to physically get the grub, my colleagues and I had more time to finish some tasks. It also meant we were present when our guests arrived, as opposed to getting stuck in traffic and arriving behind schedule for a meeting we had no business being late for (mainly because the venue was our office).
You know why ordering food online works? Because the quality is consistent. You can fully expect what you’re going to get. A pepperoni pizza is going to look and taste the same whether you buy it through the restaurant’s Website or at one of its stores. You are never going to open a box and get the surprise of your life (unless they put pasta in the box, which will only happen if they employ potheads who are constantly high). And even if you do get disappointed with what’s inside a box, what’s P400 you can always charge to experience?
A car, however, is different. It is a far more complex (and certainly far more expensive) thing than bar chow. You can stare at high-resolution images and watch high-definition videos all you want, and still you won’t be able to fully appreciate a vehicle’s total package. And I’m only referring to the tangible attributes of the car, including its dimensions, wheels, cockpit and everything else your fingers can touch. A huge part of a car’s appeal is emotional by nature. You need to see one in the metal in order to determine if it speaks to you and if you can see yourself driving it in the next five years. You can wolf down four slices of pizza in 10 minutes — the decision to get it on the Internet will not come back to haunt you in 2022.
Now, Tesla thinks it has the solution to its customers’ concern about potentially ending up with a car they don’t really like. From the above-mentioned announcement: “We are also making it much easier to try out and return a Tesla, so that a test drive prior to purchase isn’t needed. You can now return a car within seven days or 1,000 miles for a full refund. Quite literally, you could buy a Tesla, drive several hundred miles for a weekend road trip with friends, and then return it for free. With the highest consumer satisfaction score of any car on the road, we are confident you will want to keep your Tesla.”
Well, good luck with that. I can already see stockyards full of returned Tesla cars — and a gallery of disgruntled buyers demanding their money back (which I’m pretty sure the company won’t surrender that easily). Try this policy in the Philippines and let’s see how far you can go before you file for bankruptcy.
It remains to be seen whether online car-shopping will completely supplant the showroom experience we’ve all been accustomed to. With our love affair with digital devices and growing reluctance to sit in traffic, maybe it will. But it’s going to be a sad, sad day when we begin buying our cars like we order our dinner.