The first Tesla store opened in Columbus, Ohio, 72 miles away. Then one popped up in Cincinnati. Soon, another was in Cleveland. Tesla’s Ohio invasion was swift and — to longtime auto dealers such as Blake Arbogast — a growing threat, creeping ever closer. In Ohio, dealers sued and lobbied their legislators. One called Tesla’s spread into his territory Armageddon. All to no avail. Tesla, the electric-car manufacturer, and its boutique galleries are here to stay.
But Tesla has been steadfastly eroding the traditional model, persuading an increasing number of states to allow it to sell vehicles directly to customers through its boutique stores and even over the Internet. In April, through little more than online viewing galleries, customers committed to buying 400,000 cars they had not seen in person.Its stores are chic and small. A single model sits in the middle. And unlike Arbogast dealership in Troy, Ohio, there is no lot outside with cars ready for sale.
Huffines Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram Lewisville in suburban Dallas last year took a shot at selling specialized aftermarket audio accessories and has amped up profits as a result. A first-of-its-kind agreement with Alpine Electronics of America enables the dealership to upsell audio accessories to new-vehicle buyers, who can finance the equipment as part of the purchase. The result: "We're routinely installing $7,500 to $8,000 systems in people's vehicles," said Ray Burgess, Huffines' accessories director. "It's the most profitable thing we do right now.
For decades, aftermarket audio suppliers such as Alpine have looked past dealers and focused marketing efforts directly at consumers and electronics retailers. But in early 2015, Alpine produced a new category of vehicle-specific replacement dash systems under the name Alpine Restyle. The first product was an infotainment unit for the most accessorized SUV on the planet, the Jeep Wrangler. The unit features a 9-inch touch screen that is 50 percent bigger than the largest screen available from the factory. The $3,500 plug-and-play system, with integrated navigation, fits seamlessly into the 2011-16 Wrangler's dash and retains all of the functionality of the Wrangler's existing Uconnect system. That means all of the control buttons on the steering wheel and voice commands continue to work.
Normally, we'd be selling through our normal channels," said Steve Crawford, general manager of aftermarket at Alpine. "But because it's just a vehicle-specific solution, we saw a lot of attention resonating with a lot of new-vehicle drivers." Crawford, who owns a Wrangler, said the typical Wrangler customer's openness to accessories made the vehicle a perfect guinea pig for the company's swing into dealership-sold accessories. "The Wrangler customer likes to do a lot of customization to that vehicle." This month, said Crawford, Alpine will introduce a similar aftermarket system for newer-model Chevrolet and GMC pickups that also will be integrated with those vehicles' existing audio and voice-control systems.
The Huffines store in Lewisville, Texas, was the first dealership to sign up with Alpine, and it's now been joined by about 100 other Jeep dealerships nationwide, said Crawford. The Lewisville store averages about 175 new and 150 used sales a month. The family-owned Huffines chain owns nine dealerships in Texas, representing Fiat Chrysler, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia and Subaru brands. Burgess said the Lewisville dealership created a subsidiary called Huffines Designs that focuses on marketing and installing the Alpine accessories, primarily for the Wrangler and Ram 1500. He said Alpine has provided assistance with training staff in service and sales.