Santos says electric car maker getting showroom

By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, December 20, 2010

The District's deputy mayor for planning and economic development says Tesla Motors has settled on a place to open a D.C. showroom, but company officials are mum.

Valerie Santos, who made attracting and retaining companies a focus of her year and a half as Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's economic development chief, says the luxury electric car maker signed a lease to open a showroom at 1050 K St. NW, a downtown office building owned by the Lenkin Co. and the Tower Cos., with a planned opening early next year.

Tesla officials did not return repeated requests for comment. In August, spokesman Ricardo Reyes confirmed that the company was interested in 1050 K St., calling it "a site we're considering."

Founded in 2003, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla raised more than $200 million at its initial public offering in June. Its sporty, battery-powered cars, of which it has sold about 1,200 worldwide, can be plugged into most electrical outlets, charged overnight and driven 245 miles without needing a recharge.

Although the company has not announced its D.C. location yet, it made a splash locally Nov. 19 at the annual meeting of the Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership, where Tesla representatives drove one of the company's battery-powered roadsters through the halls of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and offered guests a chance to sit behind the wheel. Each of the hundreds of real estate developers, business people and government officials at the event's luncheon received toy Matchbox-style Tesla cars, and the company also handed out radio-controlled Tesla toys.

Santos, who will not be retained by incoming mayor Vincent C. Gray, said the District did not offer subsidies to the carmaker to prompt it to come to the city. She said she helped it acquire regulatory approvals to sell cars downtown. Tesla already sells cars through stores in New York, Chicago, Seattle, Boulder, Colo., outside Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and in Menlo Park and Santa Monica, Calif.

"They clearly believe in the city," Santos said. "I know that they looked at sites elsewhere in the region but it was important to them to be downtown and close to the Hill."

Washington is shaping up as a competitive sales market for the nascent electric car industry. Chevrolet began selling its hybrid electric Volt last week, shipping the first 360 models to dealerships in California, Texas, New Jersey and the D.C. and New York City metropolitan areas. Washington is also one of more than a dozen American markets where Nissan has formed partnerships aimed at unveiling its electric Leaf car.

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