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Gloucestershire Business News

Batteries included (but not humans) says Tesla

Dehumanised commerce may have taken another step forward with an announcement from Tesla that it plans to expand a US pilot scheme whereby potential buyers can unlock test drives at staff-free locations.

Through a downloaded app, potential punters can tap in their details, upload a driving licence and pop the locks to a Model 3 or Model Y demonstrator for a hour-long test drive slot – all without so much as handshake with a human being.

No Gloucestershire location for this robotised sales customer experience is to be rolled out as yet – the first app-unlocked test drives will be from locations in Scotland, Ireland and Merry Hill in the West Midlands. But a prominent Gloucestershire car dealership that specialises in selling new used EVs has swiftly condemned the entire idea as "appalling".

Family-run Cleevely Electric Cars, which trades as part of the 60-year-old Cleevely Motors and is based at the Lansdown Industrial Estate in Cheltenham, says that the transition to electric motoring is one where human contact is more important than it's ever been.

Matt Cleevely set up the EV side of business, which now accounts for 40% of overall sales, with his wife Claire in 2018 after their first tentative purchase of a Nissan Leaf. No part of their experience felt personal, he said, and the process lacked customer service on any level.

Mr Cleevely said: "Tesla's idea is just appalling. How can they reason that they can create business when there is a lack of knowledge about EV specification? How can they can think the general public is clued up enough to just jump in and drive?"

Cleevely Electric, which specialises in 'preloved' models, lists, in descending order, Kia's E-Niro, Tesla's Model 3 and Hyundai's Kona (neck-and-neck with Renault's Zöe) as its top three current sellers. Tesla's robotised plan to sell jars with their own company philosophy.

He added: "When people are coming from internal combustion-engined (ICE) cars to EVs, there is a path which we call an educational process, where it is vital for a good sales team to offer guidance and insight. I can see how Tesla's approach might work for previous owners of their cars, but we just can't see how it works for first timers, who are the majority out there.

EV driving can be intuitive, he said, but the technology on many models requires a good degree of hand-holding for users to gain confidence.

In the future, Tesla intends to have all test drives across the UK and Ireland managed through its own app, with customers "self-scheduling" test drives through their nearest Tesla location. At the appointed hour, they can unlock the car via the app and drive it. The process is not, however, conversation-free: once in the car, a Tesla call centre operator uses the car's cameras to confirm identity and offers guidance on how to use the controls.

Tesla's story began in 2009 with the first deliveries of the Roadster, but with sales in Europe passing the millionth milestore this year, demand has been boosted further still with the model range expansion to include the Model 3 and Model Y, the latter being the best selling electric car in the UK for 2023. 

Elsewhere in big business, Tesla is not alone in seeking to streamline its sales process by removing people: McDonald's opened its first fully automated restaurant in Texas early this year and declared that the future is digital and self-serve.

However, Booths, dubbed as the "Northern Waitrose", last week announced that it had listened to customers and was pulling the plug on its automated checkout tills.

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