Seattle Roadshow Storms Pacific Northwest

Nine Tesla employees stormed Seattle last weekend on a four-day sales and marketing blitz. The trip was a great success – not only for 80 customers and media who got to drive the car but for those of us at Tesla scouting the perfect location for a Seattle-area store, which we are planning to open in the first half of 2009.

Our popularity in the Pacific Northwest shouldn’t surprise anyone (though it did take us some time to figure it out). Like Silicon Valley where Tesla is headquartered, the Seattle region is full of environmentally conscious early adopters – people who love technology and buy sophisticated electronics years before they’re mainstream commodities. When we parked the Roadster outside of Building 33 on Microsoft’s evergreen-studded campus, hundreds of people crowded around to view it -- and we are quite thankful that no one spilled their Starbucks coffee cups on the microfiber seats during their photo ops. When our sales and engineering teams gave a technical presentation and Q&A inside the building, the hour-long event was standing room only.

Washington is also an important customer base because of the state’s progressive legislation aimed at reducing the number of gas-guzzlers on the roads. The state recently passed a new sales tax exemption that encourages local car shoppers to buy hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles – a waiver that will save state residents at least $18 million in the next two years. We hope other states will follow its lead.

A few details: Although shoppers can buy and make payments on the car now, Washington’s sales tax is waived for customers taking ownership, registration and title of their vehicles between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2010. The tax break applies to new cars and trucks that get at least 40 highway mpg.

Mainstream cars such as the Toyota Prius and hybrid Honda Civic are eligible for the exemption, as are lower-volume vehicles such as the all-electric Roadster and “city cars” that aren’t highway-capable. Sales tax rates vary from county to county. In Kings County and Seattle, where customers usually pay 9.3 percent sales tax, Roadster buyers can pocket $10,000 instead of forking it over to the state.

Lots of our customers were talking about the sales tax exemption when they gathered around a closed-course parking lot in Bellevue to drive the car. We set up the course to highlight the car’s acceleration, braking, and handling – and we heard lots of screams and laughs. (One customer whose name we will not publish – let’s just say he works at a major software company in Redmond – failed to brake hard enough and had to reverse the car in order to continue on the set course. Fortunately he didn’t overshoot the cones and end up on Bellevue’s busy Main Street. You know who you are.)

The Roadster we took to Seattle– validation prototype No. 11, which was fitted with the faster and more efficient “powertrain 1.5” – performed all weekend with very little rest or charge time, and absorbed whatever abuse was thrown its way. We were also pleasantly surprised by the weather, which was uncharacteristically warm and sunny the entire weekend. Customers came from as far as Idaho, and we were even able to offer test drives to local journalists, bloggers, members of a local EV owners club, and the Sierra Club. Check out the local buzz:

The Seattle Times:
Driving the Driving the Tesla Roadster: wwwwWWHHHHHIRRRrrrrr by Brier Dudley

Call Me Fishmeal:
Tesla v. Supercharged Lotus Elise by Wil Shipley

Car Domain:
VP 11 by Editor-in-Chief Rob Einaudi

All this bodes well for the future of Tesla in Seattle. Thanks to everyone who came out to see us. The event was such a success, I think we will need to do something similar in cities around the country. Suggestions welcome!