Alexis Georgeson swipes her hand along the computer screen in one of the Tesla Model S sedans in the new showroom in Westfield Montgomery Mall. With a whir, the sunroof above slides open.
On the road, it moves in silence, accelerating in an instant, flying around corners. It’s low slung, and its wheels grip the road like claws. It doesn’t have an engine — where one should sit, there is 5.3 cubic feet of storage.
That doesn’t mean it can’t move: The car’s motor, just a little larger than a basketball, can push the car, in its fastest permutation, from zero to 60 in just 4.2 seconds, she said.
“You don’t have to wait for a series of mini-explosions to occur like you do in an internal combustion engine,” she said, as the car rocketed up I-270, whipping between lanes and heading off the Montrose Road exit.
With “skateboard architecture,” the car has one of the lowest centers of gravity of any sedan on the market, Georgeson said. And when you pull out the jump seat in the back, the car holds seven.
Tesla, which first raised eyebrows when it launched the Roadster in 2008, now has 34 galleries and stores in states around the country, along with locations in Europe and Asia.
The showroom, which opens Friday, is the first gallery to open in Montgomery County and in Maryland.
“There hasn’t been a new, successful, American auto manufacturer in 100 years,” Georgeson said. Tesla though, already is profitable, she said. The Roadster worked as a “proof of concept” car, she said.
“The goal was to show we could make an awesome electric vehicle,” she said. The Roadster retailed for about $110,000.
Now, the base model of the Model S retails at just below $70,000, she said. In three to four years, Tesla plans to release a car priced at between $30,000 and $35,000, she said.
In the D.C. region, Tesla galleries already have opened in Tysons Corner and on K Street in Washington, D.C.
At the gallery in Montgomery Mall, workers still were adding some final touches on Thursday before its grand opening.
Because of state law, the gallery in the Montgomery Mall won’t actually be able to sell cars or offer test drives, she said.
“It’s more of an educational experience,” she said.
Customers interested in actually buying one of the cars have to order it online or at the store on K Street, a Tesla employee said.
Each car is made to order, Georgeson said.
The cars now take about three to six weeks to arrive at the buyer’s doorstep. Tesla’s factory, in Fremont, Calif., now turns out about 500 cars a week, she said. The company has sold about 13,000 cars so far this year, and expects to close out the year with about 20,000 sold, she said.
In the showroom, two Model S sedans sat, gleaming, along with the chassis of a third, set out for demonstration purposes.
But for a damning review in The New York Times (which Tesla disputed, arguing that the writer intentionally tried to sabotage the car’s performance), the car has wowed reviewers, and it is the highest-rated car ever reviewed by Consumer Reports, Georgeson said.
On the road, the car zooms along, slung low and sleek. It has handles that pop out from the car’s doors when the driver approaches; they retract once he or she is in the car, making for a more aerodynamic drive.
The cars can travel about 260 miles when fully charged. A completely dead battery typically needs nine hours for a full recharge.
Among the car’s many other features: It turns on automatically when the driver sits down, as long as he or she has the key.
Because the car is connected to the Internet, any owner with a smartphone and the right app can communicate with his car and have it heated up or cooled down on the walk from their office or home to the car, she said.
“It will get better and better the longer you own it,” she said, referencing the car’s ability to update automatically with new software packages, like its “creep function,” which allows it to move forward slowly after being braked, as with an auto with a regular engine.
“We do not have a demand problem,” Georgeson said. She said about 1,000 cars had been sold in the metro D.C. area. Local retailers haven’t yet weighed in on whether or not they’re worried about Tesla’s incursion into Montgomery County.
“We have a wide range of customers,” she said. Because it’s a luxury vehicle — the starting S Class sedan retails at just under $70,000, many of Tesla’s customers are people who also would buy a BMW, a Mercedes or an Audi, she said.
“But we definitely have some customers who care about cutting their emissions who are just passionate about jumping on board ... and helping drive electric vehicle adoption forward.”