Tesla, and its Apple-style stores, to focus on Asia, Europe this year

Electric car company Tesla (s TLSA) isn’t just trying to reinvent the automobile, it’s trying to change how cars are sold with its Apple-style hands-on showrooms. And in 2013, Tesla will be using these stores in Europe, and new ones in Asia, to try to bring in customers internationally.

In Tesla’s earnings call this week, Tesla’s VP of Worldwide Experience George Blankenship reiterated that Tesla plans to open its first store in China — in a shopping area in Beijing — this spring, and the company is planning stores in Hong Kong and more in Japan in the later part of 2013. Tesla already has at least eight stores in the works in big cities across Europe, and will shortly be delivering Model S cars to those European stores.

Green Overdrive: Tesla's New Apple Store Experience thumbnail

Tesla has been so focused on the U.S. for the first part of its Model S launch that it only has two Model S display cars in all of Europe, said CEO Elon Musk on the call. “That’s going to change dramatically over the next few months, and we are going to start marketing heavily in Europe and then start doing the same in Asia,” said Musk. Blankenship noted that the company’s decisions on placement and design of its stores is “working,” noting that 1.6 million people in North America went through a Tesla store in the fourth quarter of 2012.

International markets could be real success stories for Tesla. Already, without much marketing and display cars, 25 percent of Tesla’s reservations come from outside North America, said Musk. In many countries in Europe, gas prices are sky high, and some governments are offering large incentives for electric cars and carbon-emissions-free transportation. At one point electric car startup Fisker had sizable sales in the Netherlands.

China is the largest market for automobiles in the world, and incentives in some cities are high for electric cars. The appetite for western luxury brands in China also remains high.

Blankenship formerly helped design Apple’s store experience, and is now using many of those learnings to shape Tesla’s stores. We interviewed Blankenship at our RoadMap event last November, and he shared his thoughts on what the store in connected age should deliver: