Ordinarily, delivering new cars to happy owners (or getting them fixed later if something goes wrong) is ordinary, business-as-usual stuff in the car business. It’s a system that’s been smoothed out by decades of practice: Go to a dealership, sign papers, get your car. Or take it back and have a plastic number put on its roof, then relax in a waiting room as the mechanics figure out what’s wrong before handing you an invoice and a right-as-rain ride. But how does this work in our new world of social distancing? Tesla has some new ideas—in addition to its regular programming of anti-establishment ideas on dealerships and service.
Even though Tesla paused manufacturing on March 23rd, it still has cars it already built that are still headed for their new owners. So, mindful of the nation’s newfound spatial caution, Tesla has gotten clever with its distribution of new models. Say you’re anxiously waiting for your new Model Y (Tesla’s new compact electric SUV), which saw initial deliveries officially kick off about a week ago. Based on sales experience gleaned in China in last month, while that country was still in the grips of lockdowns and public restrictions, Tesla developed two new-vehicle pick-up options: Express Delivery and Direct Drop, for American customers on edge about touching or being around other people.
Tesla Express Delivery (Less Touchy)
The first new car end-of-sale method, dubbed “Express Delivery,” leverages Tesla’s smartphone app as well as each new car’s onboard data connection to avoid handling or transferring any car keys—or nearly anything else but the car and some paperwork between the company and its new owner.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you needn’t travel. Customers using Express Delivery must still show up at a Tesla Delivery Center, where they check in for a scheduled appointment. It works like this: Using the app’s location tracking, you go directly to your new car to inspect it. All required documents are inside, prepared ahead of time and with highlights pointing out what to sign and where. Customers can also access tutorial videos on the main touchscreen (they were recently introduced alongside Tesla Theatre last year) and brush up on their car’s key functions. When you’re done signing everything and are ready to hit the road, an advisor will collect the documents for review while a technician adds a temporary tag and license plate.
The whole process requires minimal human interaction and is reasonably efficient, although we’d recommend that anyone concerned about touching paperwork or a new car that others might have been in before them just bring some sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer with them to give everything a once-over for peace of mind. In any event, the process also sounds much improved over previous Tesla sales closures. This author once accompanied a friend to pick up a Model 3, and although we arrived for our pick-up appointment on time, we wasted a lot of time waiting for an advisor to become available, the paperwork to be done, and the car to be readied and transported from an off-site location. Express Delivery, as a baseline, ensures the Tesla center has the car ready before customer arrives.
Tesla Direct Drop (Way Less Touchy)
Better yet, there’s a completely touchless delivery option called Tesla Direct Drop. Prior to delivery, you complete the paperwork digitally, e-sign everything and handle payment, download the Tesla app, and then pick a drop-off location for your new ride. (You can, for example, choose your home or your workplace—although these days, it’s more likely to be your home.) Tesla then drops the car off there. Using the Tesla app, the new owner unlocks the car and enjoys it, however they must send any remaining physical paperwork (left inside the car) back within 24 hours in a pre-paid shipping envelope. The whole process involves no physical human interaction, although the car might have a Tesla rep in it right before you take possession, so the same wipe-down suggestions apply to anyone nervous in our current climate. Right now, this delivery option is available in California, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington, DC.
So, two grades of less-contact-filled vehicle delivery are great—but what about servicing and repairs? In addition to service centers, Tesla also has its famous fleet of mobile Tesla Rangers that travel to the car’s location in service vehicles equipped with tools and parts, or with a trailer to cart it off to faraway service centers. To minimize contact with the Rangers, Tesla is asking owners to request maintenance or a repair via its app; the automaker will determine whether it’s a job for the Rangers, and if so, confirm the car’s location and set things in motion. Owners are then asked to make their cars available at a safe, accessible location (their driveways, for example). The Ranger will request via a text or call to have the vehicle remotely unlocked upon their arrival. Finally, your payment, if required, is done through the app or by phone and the Ranger wipes down everything that’s been touched, locks the car, and sends you a message confirming the work. Cool, clever, and contact-averse—just what the times call for.