Toyota has disregarded Tesla’s powertrain solution, but it’s not disregarding Tesla’s retail solution. This frank interview with Ward’s Auto about opening mall outlets should be read as a trial balloon floated by Toyota, akin to a concept car. It’s meant to gauge public (and dealer) reaction. Surely there’s more to come. Tesla is eating Lexus’ lunch in the premium sedan segment and now occupies the runner-up spot behind Mercedes.
The phase-in plan probably goes something like this:
Phase I: Casual mention in the press, to break the ice
Phase II: Quiet discussion with dealerships to ease shock
Phase III: Public announcement
Phase IV: Execution
Will these Lexus outlets be factory-direct or independent? In a stroke of journalistic ineptitude, the Ward’s article fails to clarify that crucial aspect, but rest assured that every automaker would go factory-direct if it could. Remember, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, of which Toyota is a member, has complained about being forced to use dealers while Tesla can skip the middleman.
Automakers badly want a direct pipeline to you, the customer. Ford and GM tried it in 1999, but the efforts flopped for various reasons.
Meanwhile, TeslaMondo long-ago predicted that Tesla would expand beyond mall outlets, and more recently, Tesla has indeed said it might expand to a hybrid system of factory-direct mall stores and independent dealerships. Perhaps that’s ultimately where auto retailing is headed, period.