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Apple Fuels Tesla's Retail Drive

PALO ALTO, CALIF. (TheStreet) -- Apple's (AAPL) revolutionary retail experience has played a key role in turning the iPhone maker into the largest technology company in the world. Now, Tesla (TSLA) is looking to emulate its Silicon Valley neighbor in the auto industry.

Co-founded by Elon Musk, Tesla Motors is unlike major automakers such as Ford (F) and General Motors (GM) in that it doesn't have dealerships. Instead, Tesla has stores based in malls around the country, similar to any other retailer. There are no salesmen in the stores, but rather product specialists who teach consumers about Tesla vehicles such as the Roadster, Model S, or Model X. "Our product is different from most products. It's a computer on wheels," George Blankenship, Vice President, Worldwide Sales and Ownership Experience said in an interview with TheStreet.

Blankenship helped build Apple's retail experience and is drawing on that experience to develop the electric automaker's retail arm. Tesla's models are not for everyone due to their high price points (the Roadster can run to as much as $100,000), but by placing the stores in malls, the automaker is raising awareness of its products.

Blankenship noted that Apple's growth really started to accelerate when the iPod Mini and cheaper versions of the iPod came out. Tesla hopes to achieve similar results, especially as it builds its third-generation vehicles. Right now, Tesla's vehicles are aspirational in nature, but the company wants it to be much more, CFO Deepak Ahuja said in an interview. "We want to offer a very good value for customers," Ahuja noted.

Tesla has 22 stores across the globe, six of which opened since the beginning of 2011. Over 650,000 people passed through the six stores in the first five months of this year, although that may be because Tesla is a newer company and there is a mystique surrounding the company's cars. Test drives of the new Model S start next weekend.

Tesla's ownership of its stores has caused some legal issues for the company, as automakers are not allowed to own their own dealerships. Blankenship says the company has been in compliance with every municipality the company has locations in. But make no mistake, Tesla is taking a very different approach to the than the "Big 3" in Detroit. That's "thinking different."

Shares of Tesla are higher today, up 0.92% to $29.12.

--Written by Chris Ciaccia in San Francisco

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