Electric car pioneer Tesla Motors opened its newest New York City area showroom and service shop in Red Hook, Brooklyn last month. Located at 160 Van Brunt Street near the industrial waterfront, the showroom is far from subway access, other car dealers or even much else to do or see. But Tesla has never been a company to follow in others’ tire tracks.
The Tesla Model S on display at Tesla’s new Red Hook showroom
At 40,000 square feet, the new Brooklyn location is bigger than Tesla’s first New York showroom in West Chelsea. But the vast majority is dedicated to a servicing center, storage garage and offices. The showroom itself occupies a small corner of an old brick warehouse building just a stone’s throw from the Port Authority‘s Red Hook Container Terminal, the only still-functioning port in the borough. Directly below, cars whiz back and forth between Manhattan and Brooklyn in the Hugh L Carey tunnel (unofficially known as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel).
Customers can customize their vehicle in the “Design Studio”
Inside are just two model vehicles, a model of Tesla’s famously lightweight chassis, and a “design studio” where customers can customize their dream electric car on an interactive display. On a recent weekday, pedestrian traffic on Van Brunt Street was thin, but a few curious passersby poked their heads into the showroom to take a look at the vehicles and ask questions of the salespeople.
The vehicle’s chassis is famously lightweight
Since its founding by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Elon Musk in 2003, Tesla has rocketed to a valuation of around $33 billion. Having sold over 125,000 cars globally, it’s the only successful exclusively electric vehicle maker. In California, where Tesla is based, its vehicles and charging stations are legion. But New Yorkers have been relatively slow to adopt the electric car, since private garages – the primary place for charging – are relatively rare and often very pricey.
A model of the “Superchargers” Tesla is installing across the country
In Manhattan, Tesla has partnered with some of the large public parking garage operators to install charging stations so electric vehicle owners can have them charged while they’re at work or home. That model doesn’t work quite as well in places like Brooklyn, where parking garages aren’t nearly as common, and few drivers have garages in their homes. So Tesla has partnered up with a start-up called Luxe, which will offer to pick up your Tesla at a few minutes’ notice and return it to you fully charged.
Brooklyn is the only showroom so far with its own T-shirt
But according to a Tesla salesperson, Elon Musk has plans to install enough charging stations in New York City within the next year or so to surpass the number of gas stations in the city. Though a full charge promises a Model S a range of 240 miles, Tesla, like other electric vehicle makers, must battle “range anxiety,” a driver’s fear that he might run out of charge before another top-up.
So the company is rolling out a nationwide network of Superchargers, which deliver an 80% charge in just 40 minutes. There are 261 existing today with plans for thousands more. They are clustered in coastal cities–where Tesla owners are more likely to live–but also spread along regular intervals on the cross-country interstates. So far the only one in the five boroughs is at JFK.
The sleek cars feel right at home in Red Hook’s old brick warehouse district
In 2012, the City and State of New York teamed up to release Mission Electric, a report detailing ways various government agencies can help spur the adoption of electric vehicles by New Yorkers by improving the infrastructure to support them. A new law requires large, new residential garages to install enough electric capacity and cabling to accommodate 20% of spaces as “electric vehicle-ready.”
The city has also identified 500 publicly-owned parcels near large highway on/off-ramps that could be activated for use as charging stations. In addition to lowering emissions, the city believes wider adoption of electric vehicles might help make New York more resilient in the face of disaster. Limited access to major roadways meant a major gasoline shortage after Hurricane Sandy.
An interactive display helps customers learn about the car’s features
While Tesla is clearly moving quicker than the public sector to develop the city’s charging infrastructure, it’s important to note that Tesla’s stations are proprietary, and a complementary network will be necessary if the city hopes to entice drivers of other brands of electric vehicle. In the meantime, here is a list of existing charging stations around Brooklyn and some ideas of what to do while you wait.
The showroom is right across the street from the Red Hook Container Terminal
Back in Red Hook, Tesla is making itself right at home. At the request of angry neighbors, it has replaced the bright red LED “Red Hook” sign that long adorned the building’s windows before Tesla came along. The building’s owners, a company called LIVWRK, has plans to convert the remainder of the former warehouse building to office space catering to start-ups and creative firms. After shaking up the auto industry in more ways than one, Tesla has landed in Red Hook with very little splash, though it should soon be fitting in just fine among the neighborhood’s wine bars and hip seafood joints.