Tesla to open Fort Worth gallery to market its electric cars

Tesla Motors, the lightning rod company that makes luxurious electric-powered cars, is planning to open a gallery store in west Fort Worth.

The store will open in early 2016 in University Park Village, a popular shopping area near Colonial Country Club and TCU, a company spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday.

“We place galleries in strategic locations based on where we think our current and future customer base live and in areas where people are informed and interested in technology,” said Alexis Georgeson, a spokeswoman based in Palo Alto, Calif.

Tesla vehicles are hailed as an example of how the automobile industry might mass-produce its products in the near future. Teslas feature lithium-ion batteries with a reported range of 200-plus miles between charges, and electric motors that provide stunning torque and acceleration. The vehicles also feature high-tech functionality, with a touch screen resembling a giant iPad embedded in the dash where the driver controls most of the vehicle’s inner works.

But they are also controversial in some places, including Texas, where state law prohibits the direct sale of vehicles to customers and instead requires that vehicle sales go through dealerships. Tesla’s business model avoids the use of dealerships as a middleman.

Since it cannot sell direct in Texas, Tesla operates so-called galleries in target markets. The company has galleries in Dallas, Houston and Austin, where a static display of a Tesla vehicle is available for customers to sit in and operate the controls. Employees are available to answer questions and guide prospective customers online to order a vehicle but cannot discuss pricing or offer test drives.

During the most recent legislative session, a proposal to allow direct sales of Teslas in Texas was defeated.

Even so, Teslas are proving popular in Texas. More than 2,000 of the vehicles are on the road in the Lone Star State, Georgeson said.

A February report by The Texas Tribune said that 1,800 Teslas were registered in Texas, including 111 in Tarrant County. Those statistics were based on 2014 sales, and many other vehicles have been sold since, according to Tesla, although precise updated figures weren’t available.

Tarrant and Collin counties are the largest markets for Tesla sales in Texas that don’t have a Tesla gallery.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson