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6/4/2009
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Ready To Test Drive A Tesla?

The company plans to open several regional sales and service centers where prospective buyers can test drive the luxury vehicle.

Tesla Roadster
(click image for larger view)
Tesla Roadster

Tesla Motors, makers of the peppiest electric sports car, said Thursday it plans to open four more dealerships in North America and three in Europe where prospective buyers can test drive the luxury vehicle.

The company plans to open regional sales and service centers in New York, Seattle, and Chicago in late June, followed by Miami. The dealerships will be in addition to the company's flagship stores, one in Los Angeles, the other at Menlo Park, Calif.

In Europe, Tesla plans to open a center in London this month, followed by Munich and Monaco. The company said it's adopting Apple's store model in its dealerships by providing a "welcoming spot to surf the Web, test drive cars, and learn more about Tesla."

"We are rethinking almost every aspect of the automobile -- from the powertrain to the customer experience, both online and in our stores," Elon Musk, Tesla's chief executive and product architect, said in a statement.

Tesla is opening showrooms at a time when major automakers General Motors and Chrysler are being forced to close down dealerships in the economic recession. The Tesla showrooms will be centrally located to allow for quick access to highways and suburbs to provide prospective buyers the chance to try the Tesla Roadster under a range of driving conditions.

The sports car gets 244 miles on a charge and goes from 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. The Roadster, which starts at $109,000, is the only highway-legal all-electric car in the United States. It's built in England at the Lotus factory.

Tesla delivered its 500th Roadster in the United States last weekend, according to the company. Late this month, the company plans to begin production of the Roadster Sport, a higher-performing car that does 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and has a starting price of $128,000. The company plans to start delivery of the vehicle in Europe first beginning this summer.

In late 2011, Tesla plans to start production of a more affordable sedan called the Model S, which is expected to have a starting price of $57,400.

Tesla last month issued a recall of all its Roadsters because of loose bolts that affected the car's handling. No accidents were reported.

Tesla's biggest rival in the electric-car business is Fisker Automotive, based in Irvine, Calif. The company plans to launch a plug-in hybrid sedan early next year at a starting price of $87,900.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on the most innovative startup technology companies. Download the report here (registration required).

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