We visited a Tesla store and a Mercedes-Benz dealership — these are the most striking differences between the two

Tesla's Model S.

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Tesla’s Model S.
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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

  • In April, I visited a Tesla showroom and Mercedes-Benz dealership in New York City to observe the differences between their sales models.
  • Tesla‘s store used innovative design strategies and revealed an eagerness to sell a vision of the brand beyond its vehicles.
  • The Mercedes-Benz dealership took a more traditional, less expansive approach to selling cars and its brand.

As established automakers move toward electrification, Tesla will compete more directly with traditional luxury brands like Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.

Tesla has so far had limited competition in the luxury electric vehicle segment, but that will change in the next decade as auto companies plan to electrify a larger percentage of their offerings. As that happens, Tesla will have new challenges to face, and the viability of its unique sales model will become clearer.

Read more: Tesla generated a crazy amount of news in 2018, but most of it was noise – here’s the most important single takeaway from the entire year

Unlike most auto companies, Tesla sells its cars to consumers directly, rather than licensing its brand to independent dealerships. That model gives Tesla more control over how it presents its vehicles and interacts with customers, but it also makes it more difficult and costly to achieve the kind of scale some of its competitors have. And Tesla has fought legal battles for the right to sell its vehicles directly to consumers in some states, like Connecticut and New Mexico, where it’s currently prohibited from doing so.

Tesla’s stores also look different than traditional car dealerships, designed with a minimalist philosophy that echoes innovative retail companies like Apple and Warby Parker. Tesla’s stores could end up influencing how other auto companies sell their cars – or remain high-profile outliers.

In April, I visited a Tesla showroom and Mercedes-Benz dealership in New York City to see the differences between how a relatively new luxury brand and an established one sell their cars. My time in each revealed contrasting sales models that spoke to the fundamental differences between Tesla and some of its competitors.

Here’s what I saw.


I started at Tesla’s store in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

The first thing I noticed was the store’s minimalist design philosophy. Like Tesla’s cars, the store seemed to emphasize the removal of non-essential features.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Because Tesla sells its vehicles directly to customers instead of using independent dealerships, the company has more control over its stores and the way they present the brand to consumers than other automakers do.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

The aesthetic alignment between the store and its products reminded me of an Apple store and highlighted the fact that the store is selling Tesla as a brand as much as its cars and energy products.

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A Tesla Model 3 is on display at Tesla’s New York City location.
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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

When I first walked in, I was approached by a friendly and outgoing Tesla employee. Her enthusiasm didn’t wane when she learned that I wasn’t in the market for a car.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

She explained Tesla’s business model, vehicles, and energy business clearly and concisely.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

She and her colleagues reminded me of a hybrid between Apple employees and traditional car salespeople, combining the former’s approachability with the latter’s extraversion and persistence.

Tesla's Model S.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

The first employee I spoke with was eager to strike a conversation about Tesla at a moment’s notice in a style that blended tech evangelism and product-oriented selling.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

While the Tesla store didn’t have any cars on the lot for those who want to drive home with one, there were cars available for a test drive.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

You could evaluate your options through the store’s digital “design studio.”

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

And if you wanted to buy a Tesla vehicle, an employee could guide you through the process at one of the store’s computers.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Overall, the store reinforced Tesla’s aesthetic identity and showed how the convergence of the auto and tech industries might influence the way cars are sold.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Even the barista’s station was clean and stylish.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

I went to the Mercedes-Benz dealership in Hell’s Kitchen next.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Immediately, it resembled a more traditional dealership.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

There were more cars on display (which, of course, is a function of the fact that Mercedes-Benz sells far more models than Tesla).

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Though the brand set some of its more high-end models, like this GT C Roadster, apart from the other cars.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Visitors could use this installation to examine digital versions of the brand’s vehicles and read slides about the brand’s history.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Open-air desks were arranged throughout the dealership and separated by rows of cars.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

The lounge area also resembled that of a traditional dealership.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

On the lower floor, a shop sold Mercedes-Benz branded merchandise.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

In contrast to my time at the Tesla store, I wasn’t asked if I needed help for over ten minutes. Once I replied that I didn’t, I wasn’t approached for the rest of my time in the dealership.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

That wasn’t a bad thing, since nothing about my activity indicated I wanted to buy a car or needed assistance, but it did reveal a key difference between the two brand’s sales philosophies.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

When it comes to marketing, Mercedes-Benz can rely more on traditional advertising (which Tesla doesn’t use) and a reputation built over nearly a century. If you’re coming to a Mercedes-Benz dealership, you’re likely already familiar with the brand.

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And unlike Tesla, Mercedes-Benz doesn’t run an energy business on the side, so the brand has less of a need to sell its vision to people who aren’t interested in buying its cars.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider

The brand’s age and the auto industry’s reliance on physical retail makes it less necessary for Mercedes-Benz to adopt innovative retail models. It will be interesting to see if that holds true in the coming decades as the auto industry shifts toward electric and self-driving vehicles.

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Mark Matousek / Business Insider