Wink, wink: New Mexico now has a Tesla sales, service and delivery center for its electric cars — even though state law prohibits auto manufacturers from selling directly to customers.
The outlet, soon to be at the new Tesla Center at Nambe Falls Travel Center in a former casino off U.S. 84/285, mirrors every purpose of a car dealership. You can buy a vehicle, drive it home and have it serviced.
The announcement, made at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday attended by U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, was ballyhooed as the first agreement of its kind between the company and a sovereign Native entity — a fact not lost on Nambe Pueblo Gov. Phillip Perez. “It was a cooperative effort between Tesla and the pueblo,” said Perez, who added negotiations took place about a year ago. “It didn’t take long to come to terms.
“We are doing our part to protect Mother Earth,” he said. “We are proud to be the first tribe to have Tesla on Indian lands. This is really great that we are able to pave the way for New Mexico with renewable energy.”
Tesla does not franchise its sales, service and delivery centers as dealerships, which are company-owned. But Nambe Pueblo is not beholden to state restrictions against Tesla’s sales and service presence.
The Tesla center is near the Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder casino and resort on land Nambe Pueblo obtained from neighboring Pojoaque Pueblo along the highway. After years of planning, the small Nambe Falls Casino opened in February 2016 next to a gas station and convenience store the pueblo developed. While the travel center has continued operating, the short-lived casino venture closed in September 2017.
Tesla has only 65 sales and service centers in 24 states, according to the company’s website. Ten states, including New Mexico and Texas, ban direct sales and others limit the number of stores.
New Mexico has 1,846 registered Teslas, with 361 in Santa Fe County, according to the New Mexico Taxation & Revenue Department. The first Tesla arrived in New Mexico in 2012.
“It changes everything for owners,” said Brian Dear, founder and president of the Tesla Owners Club of New Mexico, which he founded in 2015 to bring a Tesla sales, service and delivery center to New Mexico.
“It going to help improve electric vehicle sales,” Dear said. “People can go and get test drives, which has never happened here. It’s a gigantic thing for New Mexico. It’s such a significant milestone.”
Until now, local Tesla owners had to get their car to Colorado Springs, Colo.; El Paso; or Arizona for service, or have Tesla send a technician to their homes. Cars either had to be shipped to a buyer or picked up out of state.
“The comparison up until now is to get your car fixed, you had to think of hotel reservations and possibly a multiday stay,” said Dear. “You didn’t get a reservation for Thursday or Friday because they may not get to your car and then you would have to stay into the next week.”
Santa Fe residents Melanie and Josh Vigil had to take their Tesla Model Y Performance to El Paso when it broke down because the company required it to go to the nearest repair facility.
“It’s just convenient” to have a service center nearby, she said.
The Tesla center has two service bays, a wash bay and a “gallery” with a single car. Potential buyers will be able to “demo drive” a vehicle. There’s isn’t a dedicated sales office but sales can be done on-site.
Most Teslas are sold online.
Luján, raised in the area, lauded the move.
“I had the honor of growing up with [pueblo] members who made this happen,” Luján said. “This is what happens when great minds come together.”
As electric-powered vehicles gain a foothold in the U.S., Heinrich said he has pushed for funding in an infrastructure package in the Senate to build out electric car charging stations, especially in underserved states.
“This is a really positive development,” Heinrich said.
In 2019, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, sponsored the so-called Tesla Bill, which would have allowed nonfranchised car manufacturers to sell and service their vehicles in New Mexico.
Ortiz y Pino said the state’s auto dealers “absolutely opposed” the legislation. Because car manufacturers can only sell their automobiles through franchises in New Mexico, car dealerships have become incredibly valuable, he said.
“These are licenses to print money,” he said. “If you have the Ford dealership in Santa Fe or Albuquerque or Las Cruces, you’re guaranteed to have a nice living because [customers] have to come to you; they can’t go anywhere else. It’s not exactly a monopoly because there could be two dealerships in one community, but they limit the franchises so that they maintain highly profitable relationships with their franchisors.”
Tesla’s distribution model, which eliminates franchises, caused concern for traditional dealerships, said Ortiz y Pino, whose bill didn’t get out of committee.
“The local dealers weren’t keen to have Tesla come in because they don’t make much money on the sale of cars,” Ortiz y Pino said. “They make their money on the guaranteed warranties and the servicing that has to be done through them. That’s where the real profitability of the dealership comes.”
Ortiz y Pino said he was happy to hear Tesla had found a way to do business in New Mexico by partnering with a sovereign pueblo. “It’s a clever idea,” he said. “I think they found a way around it.”
Correction: This story has been amended to reflect the following correction. A previous version of this story included the incorrect date when Brian Dear founded the Tesla Owners Club of New Mexico. The club was founded in 2015.