Tesla Motors will legally sell its high-end, electric-powered cars out of its Natick Mall showroom, thanks to a split-decision by Natick Selectmen Monday Night.
Selectmen approved, by a 3-2 vote, Tesla’s Class 1 license, allowing Tesla to consolidate its operations in Natick, which now consist of a showroom at the mall, where customers can see a car and get information, and a sales office on West Central Street, where sales and test drives are handled.
Tesla Director of Public Policy and Associate General Counsel James C. Chen told selectmen that Tesla had been losing sales because it had to send customers from its mall showroom to its West Central Street location.
Chen said Tesla will likely turn in its business license for its West Central Street location, and sell exclusively out of the mall.
Chen said Tesla manufactures, on average, only 20,000 vehicles a year, half of which are sold in the U.S. That small number of vehicles is the reason why Tesla sells directly, as opposed to selling through a franchised dealership. Tesla’ sole New England locations are in Natick.
Selectmen Vice Chairman Joshua Ostroff, who made the motion to grant Tesla’s license, said withholding the license would be “hostile to business.”
“It’s saying to the most successful manufacture of alternative-fueled vehicles that Natick is not ready for your approach,” Ostroff said. “If we vote against this permit, we are wishing Tesla farewell.”
“I don’t support selling cars out of the Natick Mall,” said Selectman Nicholas S. Mabardy. “Even as great as the technology is … what’s to stop other dealerships from operating there?”
Selectman Charles M. Hughes, who voted in favor of the license, lambasted Tesla, stating employees were already trying to sell cars even if they weren’t authorized yet by the town to do so. Such a thing strains Tesla’s credibility, he said.
“I was there a week and a half ago. I spoke to someone who worked there, and he was ready to sell me a car. I could purchase a car,” Hughes said.
Chen said Tesla personnel at the Natick Mall are trained on the restrictions. “I’m disappointed to hear that,” he said, adding that any employee caught trying to sell cars from the mall before Tesla got its license could be fired.
Monday’s vote means Tesla will be able to sell cars at its space in the mall until at least March. It follows the Planning Board’s July 17 approval of a modification to Tesla’s site plan.
On Monday, both opponents and proponents said they wanted Town Meeting, scheduled for Oct. 15, to vote on a zoning bylaw that would have the final say on Tesla’s future at the Natick Mall. A two-thirds majority is needed to alter the town’s zoning bylaws.