In May, David Urquhart was ecstatic when it finally came time to take delivery of his new Model 3, advertised as Tesla’s first mass-market electric car.
Although nearly three years had passed since he paid his initial $1,000 deposit, Urquhart was undeterred. “It was the simplest car purchase I ever made in my life,” the New Orleans engineer said recently. “Everything was done online.”
The only hang-up: Urquhart had to pick it up in Houston.
But that aspect of the car-buying process may soon get easier too. Tesla Motors has filed plans to build a service and delivery center in New Orleans, possibly by this summer.
The center, which could be the first of its kind in the Gulf Coast, will come as welcome news to local enthusiasts of the electric-car maker.
Plans for the center have not been formally unveiled, although a demolition permit for the building's interior was issued in April and work is underway at the site, at 2801 Tchoupitoulas St.
The center will include a nearly 16,000-square-foot repair garage and office and an adjacent 30,000-square-foot warehouse, with space for about 70 vehicles, according to plans filed with the city.
It’s unclear how much Tesla is spending on the project, or how many employees will work there. The company did not return a message seeking comment.
Patrick Schindler, president of Felicity Property Co., the property’s landlord, also did not return a message.
Rumors that the carmaker was planning to open a New Orleans facility have long circulated in online forums among Tesla owners. The company also has hinted at its interest, including the city on a list of destinations that were marked as “coming soon” on its website.
Tesla has enjoyed modest sales in the state, with nearly 450 Tesla vehicles registered in Louisiana, according to state Department of Motor Vehicle data. That total includes Tesla’s Model S luxury sedan and its SUV, the Model X, both of which sell for more than $75,000.
Tesla views its more affordable Model 3, which is supposed to start at $35,000, as the key to its transition from a niche electric carmaker to a profitable mass-market manufacturer.
But so far, the baseline $35,000 Model 3 hasn’t started production. Instead, the least expensive version that’s available for ordering carries a basic price tag of about $49,000, which can rise to more than $70,000.
For much of the year, the Silicon Valley-based company struggled to hit its self-proclaimed target of producing 5,000 cars per week, although it reportedly did so in the last week of June. Tesla said it expects to hit 6,000 per week by late August, but some analysts have questioned whether that rate is sustainable for long.
Across the country, Tesla has worked to build up a network of hundreds of “supercharger” stations in cities or along highways, including a half-dozen in Louisiana, with the closest to New Orleans being in Slidell.
Last year, as it prepared to launch the Model 3, Tesla said it would add nearly 100 retail, delivery and service centers globally.
Without a dedicated service center, Tesla has relied on mobile repair services for car owners who need modest repairs, with technicians making service calls at an owner’s home or workplace.
Tesla said it determined that the majority of vehicle repairs can be made without a car lift.
Also, it said, its vehicles need less maintenance than gasoline-powered cars, since there’s no internal combustion engine, exhaust system or fuel tanks to tend to, and no oil that requires changing. However, the service center would presumably offer a local option for wheel alignments and more intensive maintenance and repairs.
David Wolf, a New Orleans attorney who has driven his Tesla S since 2013, said the local center will “definitely improve the delivery experience."
“It means that they’re committed to expanding the brand and expanding their presence here, and I think they recognize that if they’re going to be a real mass-market automobile manufacturer, which is what they are trying to do with the new Model 3, that they’ve got to make the ownership experience easier for people who are used to the dealer model,” he said.