Tesla's technology isn't the only thing that's got the gas guzzling models on the run. It's their disruptive approach to sales that's the real game changer. Make no mistake. This is serious. Billions of dollars are at stake. This automotive war isn't about green credentials either. It's not electric versus gas, this is your common or garden David-versus-Goliath of buyer versus dealership.
So what's so innovative about Tesla's approach that it's got US dealerships running scared? So scared in fact that in some US states, Tesla dealerships have been outright banned and being challenged by lobbyists in fourteen other states. All this despite the fact customers are singing Tesla's praises.
Tesla's sales tactics are ultra modern, fast, digital and ultimately causing shock waves because they level the playing field by putting the buyer firmly in the driving seat. What are they? Simple. No middleman. No dealerships. No extra hurdle. In other words, they've made it quicker, easier and more enjoyable to buy a car. No wonder the dealers are up in arms.
So what are these tactics?
Tesla showrooms are nothing like traditional car dealerships. They're modelled on Apple stores - located in large shopping malls and surrounded by state of the art technology. Instead of parking lots and pushy salesmen, Tesla showrooms are a place to experience the vehicles rather than buy them.
In fact, you can't buy one even if you want to. You can view the models, learn about the engineering process and schedule a test drive, but purchasing a Tesla happens online - direct from the company's website. As such, the bricks and mortar element of the process is more about stimulating interest, building desire and wooing the customer with an enjoyable brand technology experience while the digital aspect secures the sale.
Those opposed to Tesla's business model cite the protection of traditional car dealerships and thousands of jobs as their chief motivation. And since Tesla's model cuts out the dealership, and once you get past the price tag (some $80,000), it allows a new generation of technologically-savvy, environmentally-aware customers to avoid dealers altogether.
Furthermore, because traditional dealerships need to close as many sales as possible, they have an in-built bias against any change to the current sales process, especially when a change involves extending the time it takes for them to get a customer to sign on the dotted line. This resistance should not be underestimated either, especially when a dealer can sell three gas-powered cars in the time it takes to sell one EV.
As industry expert Gerry Bucke explains "EV ownership represents an entirely new way of driving. As such, manufacturers need to convert consumers to plug-in electrics before they begin the sales pitch. This can be a timely and skilled process, requiring significant investment." Quite simply, that's an investment the dealerships don't want to make, even if in the long run they'd be better off if sales, as predicted, do in fact double.
But if more US states insist on banning Tesla showrooms, customers will naturally face more difficulties buying them. A recent consumer report also found that many dealership salespeople were pretty apathetic about EVs. They found "a strong correlation between the salesperson's knowledge about electric cars and their propensity to encourage people to buy them."
Toyota salespeople even went as far as to discourage the sale of plug-in models, recommending gas-powered models instead. As such, dealerships don't want Tesla going over their heads to sell EVs, but they're not that interested in selling them either.
Revolutionising the sales process
So it's a case of Tesla revolutionising the car sales process while traditional dealerships remain unwilling to adapt or embrace change.
Goliath in this case looks more like an ostrich or perhaps even a dodo because one thing's for sure, Tesla isn't going away.
Read more: Elon Musk: Tesla's Model S Electric car will run Android and Google Chrome by 2014
Unfortunately, with the latest generation of car buyers preferring to browse online rather than heading to a dealership, the dealerships will need to change their attitude if they want to remain a relevant part of the sales process.
And as Tesla starts to work on models that cater to the middle market sales will surely only grow further, so it's high time dealerships evolved their attitude and approach to selling EVs or risk becoming extinct.