By Liz Pulver and Nikolas Donadic
The Smithtown Town Board cleared the way for a new Tesla Motors location in Nesconset at its meeting last week.
The board approved the zoning change requested by the location’s owner, Tim Ziss, which makes the site appropriate for “wholesale industry” rather than just “neighborhood business and central business.”
“The motivation was to put on the tax rolls, an operating business that would be beneficial to economic development and get rid of that blighted site,” Edward Wehrheim, the Smithtown Town Supervisor, said.
The Nesconset Tesla could have an impact on the local auto body industry.
“It could possibly bring higher clientele around and definitely bring more money to the area,” Mike Gabrielli, owner of Smithtown’s Asap Auto Body, said.
The site of the new location, formerly occupied by Sixth Avenue Electronics, has been vacant for the better part of a decade. Tesla was the community’s favorite of the three potential suitors, Wehrheim added.
The new designation will allow Tesla to display and store cars outside at its new sales facility, rather than just in the showroom.
The Nesconset location will be a full sales facility and will be Tesla’s eighth location in the state of New York. Currently, state law only permits Tesla to have five sales facilities, but the number of total locations is uncapped.
Two bills have already been proposed, one in the New York State Assembly and the other in the Senate, to raise the limit from five sales facilities to 20. The bills’ respective sponsors, Assemblyman Joseph Morelle and Congressman George A. Amedore Jr., could not be reached for comment.
“When I speak to my constituents and to New Yorkers from across the state, I hear a real desire for greater access to zero-emissions vehicles,” Amedore Jr. said at the 2017 grand opening of a Tesla supercharger in Albany, NY. “I support and appreciate all of Tesla’s efforts to meet this demand, including the opening of Superchargers that strengthen our electric vehicle infrastructure.”
The legislative issue surrounding Tesla stems from a schism over the traditional manufacturer-dealership relationship. Tesla sells its vehicles directly to its customers, rather than relying on third-party sellers.
“It takes hours— hours of the patient education process that only we can afford them and a traditional dealership model cannot,” Todd Moran, Tesla’s general counsel, told the FTC in 2016. “We do this because it’s our mission to educate people, and we’re in the best position to do that.”
Moran disclosed seven reasons why the company decided to stray from the traditional model, which predominantly focused on Tesla’s differences compared to other car manufacturers. Additionally, direct distribution of vehicles better fits Tesla’s fundamental approach to sales, Moran noted.
Local Tesla owner, Linda Chu, said when she bought her Tesla, the store’s personal touch and attention to detail was astounding in comparison to a traditional dealership.
“Part of the Tesla service is they walk through every function of your car with you,” Chu said. “When you go pick up your car you have to set aside two hours and they walk through all of the car functions with you.”
However, direct distribution of cars, specifically the distribution of Tesla vehicles, has been prohibited in the past by certain states.
New Jersey initially prohibited the direct distribution of cars in 2014. This sparked controversy and led to the International Center for Law and Economics submitting a letter, authored by 70 professors and academics, arguing against the ban.
Nearly one year later, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed off on a law that overturned its predecessor and permitted Tesla to open four sales facilities in the state of New Jersey.
Since the New York legislation has yet to pass, it is uncertain when the Nesconset Tesla location will be opening. The bills are currently in the transportation committees of their respective houses.