Are Tesla's Direct Sales Hurting the Electric Car?

Tesla is famous for doing things their own way. From the very first Roadster, Tesla has endeavored to shirk the status quo for their own slightly more quirky business practices. There are benefits and liabilities when your CEO is a certified evil genius.

These disruptions to the industry standard have been multi-fold. The first and most obvious is bringing a viable electric car to market in a world of gas guzzling IC engines, but Tesla has expended enormous resources in something aside from building the best electric car in the world: their push for the right to sell their products directly to consumers.

This simple concept has proven a thorn in many sides as the car dealership sales model has been operating successfully for well over hundred years, and while the initial response from the Tesla buying public was huzzah for cutting out the middle-man, dealer networks have been fighting in state courts to keep themselves firmly entrenched between car manufacturers and car buyers.

This hasn’t stopped potential Tesla owners from getting their hands on these products, regardless of dealership laws in their home state. Here in Texas, Tesla boutiques (they can’t legally be called a sales office or dealership) will let you play with a new car, drive a new car, they’ll give you all the information you want, but they are legally forbidden from discussing anything related to actually selling you the car. Instead, you have to purchase the car in another state, register the car in that state, then transfer your new car’s title to Texas. It’s a moderate amount of hoops to jump through, but certainly not prohibitive for the Tesla faithful.

But is this model really good for Tesla?

Car dealerships operate solely on sales. They have to sell cars and the occasional warranty package to keep the doors open, and the only way to get enough new customers in the door is effective marketing. And boy oh boy are they good at it. I’ve never set foot inside the door of my local Chevy megaplex dealership, but I can tell you their name, their address, and sing their theme song. And I don’t even have cable.

There are around 15 minutes of commercials every hour on prime time network TV, and at least half of that time is made up of car commercials. Right next to the glitzy star-studded commercials straight from Ford and GM are the local dealership ads, peppered with overzealous acting, rubber chickens galore, and the ever-present jingle or theme song.

Tesla increased their sales by over 200 percent last year. They’re miles ahead of the competition when it comes to electrified transport. Even with all this going for it, in terms of raw numbers, the electrified motor still hasn’t overtaken dino-juice power, and a large part of the fault falls to Tesla not having the behemoth of dealership marketing machines working for it.

Even if they can barely keep up with demand, Tesla should think about throwing some money at good old fashioned car commercials for the greater good of the industry. Bringing their American made product front and center can only do great things for widespread adoption of the technology, and might even remind a few folks that we can still do great things.

The Return of the Ranger, or Honey, We Need a Bigger Bed

Ah, the Ford F-150. The darling of the bunch for decades running. With a seemingly perfect combination of versatility, value and brand cache, the F-150 has kept its place high atop the pickup truck mountain with pluck and guile befitting a boxer in a beige tinted movie. Through thick (steel) and thin (aluminum), the F series has soldiered on as the sales titan of the Dearborn line with numbers that would make a cherry blush: Ford is predicting 2018 will be the best year for the model since 2004 with 450,000 units sold from January to June. That’s one new truck sold every 35 seconds. For comparison, in 2017, the entire Jaguar/Land Rover line sold a grand total of 114,333 vehicles in the Americas.

So why bring back the Ford Ranger, now?

It is a pickle. Why try to clone the golden goose? It almost seems greedy. The Ranger was phased out of the American market in 2011, and with this cash cow F-150 just walking off the dealer lots, why would the folks at Ford want to look the gift horse squarely in the mouth?

The simple answer is this: it’ll sell. The truck market in America is very different from what it was in 2011, lower gas prices mean consumers aren’t as worried about pain at the pump, and GM has a head start with the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon.

The longer answer has more to do with the American love affair with the pickup truck. The Ranger was Ford’s first entry into the niche mini truck market in 1983, and it appeared just as trucks were transitioning from utilitarian farm implements to urban cowboy street machines. It was cheap, easy to modify, and served as the basis for other legendary vehicles like the Bronco II. But more than that, the Ranger had something plucky and just so...American about it. The most common engine was a 2.3 liter four cylinder pumping out all of 79 horsepower, so it certainly wasn’t fast, but it was versatile, youthful, and a sales smash. In 1987, Ford sold over 300,000 Rangers.

But the years flew by and the pounds packed on. The original Ranger weighed a light 2,750 lbs while the last model built on American shores weighed as much as 3,700 lbs, and a truck doesn’t slice through the air neatly to begin with. As gas prices climbed ever higher after the financial crisis of ‘08, people traded their trucks for hybrids and hatches, sales slumped and Ford pulled it from the American market. But the Ranger never disappeared. It’s been sold in South America, Asia and Europe non-stop since 1995, and Ford Australia took over production after the last model rolled off the Louisville assembly lines in 2011.

Here we are over 7 years later and the glut of petroleum brought to market through new technologies like fracking means we’re seeing supercharged V8s making more power than ever before and F-150s sold every minute or so. The Ranger will sell like sunblock in summer. With the 2019 model on sale soon and the new Bronco to follow, Ford is throwing some real weight behind the decision to pull out of the American sedan market. Let’s hope the new Ranger lives up to its name.