In an interview at Tesla's updated "new design" store in the swank Fashion Island mall in Newport Beach, Calif., Blankenship, 58, said Tesla retail specialists follow Apple's soft-sell approach.
"The customers are asking the right questions," he said. "It's not: 'How much does it cost?' The question is: 'Is this really all electric?' which is what you want them asking about the car. Finally, at question eight or nine it's: 'How do I get one and how much does it cost?' I'm happy with that line of questioning."
The 8,000 orders Tesla has received for the Model S take the pressure off the salespeople, who are now taking reservations for deliveries next year. But at some point next year, Tesla will have to engage in day-to-day retailing.
How will Tesla get around state laws that prohibit company stores from selling cars? By selling the cars online, not in stores. The store employees will not receive commissions.
In Texas, for example, Blankenship said Tesla stores will display vehicles and the employees on site will do everything but sell the car. Customers who want to buy one will be directed to teslamotors.com to configure the car and complete the sale. Delivery can take place at the Tesla store or at the customer's home or office.
"It takes the whole not-selling-the-car process to another level," he said. "We're telling customers, 'I can't sell you a car today if I wanted to.'"
So far, Texas regulators have not complained, Blankenship said.
Adam Shaivitz, a Texas Department of Motor Vehicles spokesman, said that Tesla's loophole does not violate Texas law.
"That Tesla store does not actually sell vehicles. Only if you are actually selling vehicles are you required to have a franchised dealer's license. Our understanding is that you can go in and get information, but not actually make a purchase," Shaivitz said.
Of course, customers will want to test drive the car, and Tesla dealers will have a couple of units in stock for that purpose.
"We are interacting with people who are not thinking of buying a car today," Blankenship said. "We are explaining electric transportation. We are carving a niche where we are informing and engaging with people. They want to come in and do this. That contact with customers is an incredible value. And they come back."
Tesla retailers often will be in shopping malls, generating more foot traffic than if they were in auto malls. In the first three months of this year, Tesla's six "new design" stores had more than 410,000 visitors, Blankenship said.
Tesla has 11 outlets, with another one to open by year end. Some of the older showrooms are being updated with a new corporate look.
The stores are about the size of an Apple outlet, with room for a couple of cars inside for walk-arounds. There are lots of touch screens that provide more information about the car.
Without any Model S units on the road, Tesla is still working out residual values for the vehicle.
"We were able to figure out how to trade in Roadsters," Blankenship said of Tesla's first model.
"There is a resale market out there. We'll have wholesale and retail prices. We give them our trade-in value but also the paperwork showing what their car is going for on the open market. We'll put everything on the table. Everything is open book."
Tesla will have four levels of service outlets. Some aren't customer-facing at all, just a service staffer with a pickup and a trailer full of diagnostic tools, charging $1 per round-trip mile traveled. Then there are drop-off locations with lifts, others with seating areas and ones that follow the more traditional service model with espresso bars, cable TV and wireless Internet access.
"I know where the first 8,000 cars are going, so I know where to put service centers," Blankenship said. "We put them in based on how many cars we have in an area. We are a lot closer to each of the customers."