Buying a Tesla has always been a contactless process. Everything from customizing the car to paying for it happens online. Then the vehicle is delivered to your home. Tesla dealerships don’t even exist in the classic sense, only stores with display cars to see what you can buy online.
Now, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, traditional companies like Ford and Volkswagen are eyeing Tesla’s online ordering set-up. Most car companies, of course, rely on local dealerships for in-person car shopping, even if you can browse online beforehand and customize your vehicle with your mouse. So, this week, Ford announced a new contactless process to offer a safer option for car buyers who don’t want to venture beyond the computer screen.
The new experience starts, well,online. Once you’ve picked out potential options, you’re connected to your local dealership. But instead of heading to the lot, Ford staff there will send videos and photos of the cars you’re interested in and you can video chat, email, or text with staff about the cars. If you’ve decided on one of the cars, you’ll then go through financing options — also all online. Once the paperwork is taken care of the car is delivered to your house. If you want, you can still go for an IRL test drive before making a final decision. Ford assures it has new hygiene protocols and social distancing measures in place at dealerships and for test cars.
Volkswagen this week also introduced a remote “Sign Anywhere” program so that customers don’t have to sign paperwork at a showroom. The German carmaker said more than 420 Volkswagen dealerships will offer the digital signature option to complement an already robust online marketplace that lets you browse before setting foot in a lot.
This is all very reminiscent of a certain all-electric company run by an eccentric billionaire.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk boasted yet again only last week about what he calls a “two-minute” shopping process. Last year, Musk briefly toyed with the idea of going 100 percent online and closing retail stores. Heeventually backed off thatand kept the test drives and physical stores in place.
But the Tesla process is still centered onTesla.com, where features, battery types, and other add-ons, like Autopilot, are all selected. You canreturnany Tesla within seven days if you’re unhappy for any reason, especially since many new owners buy the EV sight unseen.
All this to say, Tesla is the predominant online car-buying player out there. But companies like General Motors have offeredonline ordering optionsfor several years in select locations (although pre-COVID-19 you were often encouraged to come into the dealership at some point during the buying process). Since the outbreak, a GM spokesperson said its online shopping sites have seen a sharp uptick, although he couldn’t provide specific numbers. Upcoming automakers like Rivian, Polestar, and Lucid are following in Tesla’s footsteps with a focus on an online-only purchasing experience.
Tesla’s online dominance predated the pandemic, but it now appears to be the best way to go for the industry at large.