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Tesla service center in Raleigh portends NC showroom

Take a peek inside the Tesla service center in Raleigh, not far down the road from the Angus Barn steakhouse, and you will get a glimpse at what some believe is the future of the American automobile.

The single bay garage is just big enough to squeeze in a pair of lifts, shelves of wipers and battery packs stacked in wooden crates.

But notice what’s not there: no motor oil, no belts, no spark plugs, no transmission fluid.

The garage is one of two dozen nationwide Tesla has opened, focusing on regions that have strong sales potential for the California company’s line of Model S electric cars, which start at $69,900.

If sales trajectories here continue, Tesla officials say, North Carolina could get a Tesla showroom as early as next year.

Customers can’t buy a car or test drive a Tesla at a showroom, which is typically in shopping malls. The sites are simply to entice people to order a Tesla online.

But sales here will depend not only on the whims of customers but also on the state legislature.

The N.C. Senate voted unanimously two weeks ago to prohibit online auto sales by manufacturers – a bill that today only affects Tesla.

The House will now take up the bill, and Tesla is trying to line up support to counter the politically formidable N.C. Automobile Dealers Association.

On Wednesday, officials from the company were in town to meet with lawmakers. They parked a Model S in front of the legislature, and capped their efforts by letting House Speaker Thom Tillis take the car on a test drive.

Tillis’ verdict: “When you accelerate it, it was the same sort of feeling I got when I test-drove a Mustang Boss back when I was probably 23 years old. Just an amazing feeling.”

‘Free-market’ approach

Rep. Mike Hager, a Rutherfordton Republican, said the House debate will be more of a “free-market conversation.”

“Any time there’s an innovative way to bring a product to market, it’s going to initially get pushback from the fellows that have been doing business the same way since 1902, or whenever,” said Hager, who met with Tesla officials Wednesday.

Tesla CEO and co-founder Elon Musk, who previously founded PayPal, intends to travel to Raleigh to testify before the House Transportation Committee and make the case that lawmakers should not get in the way of his company’s plans to expand here.

Professional race car driver Leilani Munter, a Cornelius resident named by Sports Illustrated as one of the world’s top 10 female racers, also plans to appear before the House committee when the bill is scheduled for debate.

“I find it horrifying that North Carolina would make it illegal for me to buy a car from Tesla,” said Munter, who met with legislators Wednesday.

Tesla’s Model S luxury sports sedan is Motor Trend car of the year for 2013 and recently scored 99 out of 100 points in Consumer Reports. The basic model boasts a driving range of more than 200 miles between charges.


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