Auto Show Mania

Tesla Motors wasn't planning to attend an auto show this year. We had a simple marketing plan: viral marketing, public relations, and a great website. But a sequence of extraordinary events changed everything.

It started with an exclusive article in Wired Magazine's August issue. And it continued with our launch event at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, where California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made a surprise visit. Then there was the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, one of the premier gatherings of auto enthusiasts in the world, and the first public showcase of the Tesla Roadster. These events started a media feeding frenzy. Suddenly we were reading articles from newspapers, magazines, weblogs and newsfeeds, television news shows, radio talk shows, and more. (You can see many of these reports at our media page.)

A quiet moment for the Tesla Roadster
before the start of the SF Auto Show

As a result of our newfound fame, we were invited to display the Tesla Roadster at the San Francisco Auto Show and the Los Angeles Auto Show. We had initially thought that auto shows would be too expensive for us. But thanks to all the enthusiasm surrounding the Tesla Roadster, we were invited to exhibit at both shows with deals that were irresistible. That fit in perfectly with our marketing budget!

The San Francisco Auto Show, held on November 18-26, was our first auto show. The organizers made it very easy for us to accept their offer to exhibit by giving us a prime spot at the base of the escalators right at the entryway to the show. We set up a turntable display for the car, put in some informational displays about the ESS and motor, and set up a video loop to show the car driving at Pebble Beach. Take a look at this YouTube video showing the car on the turntable.

This is a relatively small auto show, but it is right in our backyard and about half of our current customers live in the area. We had a great time at the show, and we think the attendees did too. The area around the turntable was often packed five-people deep as attendees gathered to get a better look at the Tesla Roadster. The most frequently asked questions: How far will it go? How long does it take to re-charge? How fast is it? When can I get one? What does it cost?

Ready for viewing at
the Yokohama booth

The Los Angeles Auto Show (December 1-10) is a little larger, with more than 1 million attendees. This is the first year that the show started in December (it was previously held in January and overlapped with the Detroit Auto Show). This year is also the show's 100th anniversary.

We started off the week on Monday, November 27, with an event at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina Del Rey. It was billed as a customer ride event – a chance for those who have reserved a Tesla Roadster to get a ride. We ended up hosting Dan Neil, the Pulitzer Prize winning auto journalist for the L.A. Times, who wrote another great article on the Tesla Roadster. (Registration is required to view the article.) Also at our customer ride event was Lynchpin Productions, which is shooting an episode for the Sundance Channel Green Series to be aired in April 2007. They were able to interview several of our prominent customers including Chris Paine, who wrote and directed Who Killed the Electric Car. Watch for this interesting series on the Sundance Channel.

We take questions
at the LA Auto Show

On Tuesday it was over to the Los Angeles Convention Center to place the Tesla Roadster on the show floor. Our marketing partner, Yokohama Tire, generously offered to host our car in their booth. Since they are a major sponsor of the show, they have a booth right in front. Everyone entering the show has to walk by our booth.

It was the perfect spot, and as the press wandered around during the two media days we certainly received our share of attention. There were periods when reporters, TV cameras, and photojournalists were lined up three deep to talk to us. Very heady stuff.

On Wednesday morning the keynote address was given by General Motors Chairman Rick Wagoner. We had heard that he would announce something about electric cars so we made a point of being there. As it turned out he said a lot of stuff that resonates with our own philosophies:

  • Electric drive is the future of the automobile industry.

  • Diversity of fuel sources is important to the environment as well as the reduction of dependency on foreign oil.

  • Electric cars offer “upstream energy diversity” since electricity can be manufactured from many different fuel sources.

Mr. Wagoner also announced that GM would introduce a plug-in hybrid in 2008. His speech ended up driving many reporters to our booth for more information. Our response to GM: Welcome back!

Gov. Schwarzenegger with
Martin at the press conference

On Thursday Gov. Schwarzenegger held a press conference to discuss his environmental policies and showcase some of the car companies that were considered good examples, including Tesla Motors.

After a couple of false starts, we finally convinced our Yokohama hosts and the L.A. Convention Center staff that it would be a good thing to move our car from the booth to the press conference site. So at 9am on Thursday morning we were lined up behind Gov. Schwarzenegger along with cars from Daimler-Chysler (BluTech Diesel E320), BMW (Hydrogen 7), GM (FlexFuel Tahoe), and Honda (FCX Fuel Cell car). These are some mighty big companies compared to little Tesla Motors, but we certainly held our own.

Plastic on the tires protects
the carpet as Mike inches
the car back to the show floor

Our CEO, Martin Eberhard, had 30 seconds to speak. Then the Governor spent a few minutes with each company. The video cameras rolled and the strobes flashed. Later Matt Nauman of the San Jose Mercury News told me it was ironic that Tesla Motors - the smallest, newest company in the group - had the product that was closest in both availability and concept to solving our country's environmental and oil dependency problems.

Once the press conference was over we moved the car back into the Yokohama booth. I’m sure that the people wandering the halls of the L.A. Convention Center thought it was pretty strange to see an exotic looking sports car rolling quietly down the carpeted hallway under its own power.

The Los Angeles Auto Show will continue until December 10. If you have the time and live in the Los Angeles area, be sure to drop by the Yokohama booth. We have our red Tesla Roadster there, and we would love for you to have a look at it and talk to the Tesla Motors employees who are staffing the booth. You can't miss us - we're the ones wearing the bright red shirts.