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Andrey Lemeshko & Yuliya Fedorinova
07 Jul 2015 10:39
A driver charges his Tesla Model S at a dealership in Salt Lake City on May 29 2015. (George Frey, Reuters)
The love wealthy Muscovites
have for Elon Musk is costing them dearly.
Almost 100 000 Russians
follow Musk’s unofficial social media page, yet the Tesla founder seems to be
promoting his dream car everywhere but here, forcing enthusiasts like Andrey
Vratskiy to go to great lengths – and expense – to own one.
Vratskiy, a 33-year-old
software executive, wanted to swap his BMW X6 for a $75 000 Tesla S so badly
that he agreed to pay almost double for it. With no sales network in Russia, he
had to buy his sedan in the US and spend $12 000 to fly it to Moscow, where it
cost $50 000 to clear customs.
When he first started driving
his ocean blue Tesla two years ago, Vratskiy said he felt like an endangered
species in the wild.
Now he’s roaming with dozens of other members of the fan
club he started and has spotted about 250 more.
“I love gadgets and this
thing is pure gadget, like an iPhone on wheels,” said Ivan Streshinskiy, who
manages most of Alisher Usmanov’s $14-billion fortune as head of USM Advisors.
He bought a white Model S last summer and is shopping for a red one.
Other Russian owners include
billionaire Roman Abramovich and bankers Herman Gref and Andrei Akimov, who
head OAO Sberbank and OAO Gazprombank, Russia’s largest and third-largest
For Gref, who served as
economy minister during President Vladimir Putin’s first two terms, not even
the US-led sanctions that severed his bank from the global financial system can
curb his appreciation of the US machine.
“It doesn’t pollute nature
and it’s super cheap and easy to use,” Gref said by e-mail.
With such prominent customers
already happy and a moneyed class famed for bouts of conspicuous consumption,
Tesla could easily sell 2 000 Model S sedans and 2 000 of its upcoming Model X
sport utility vehicles a year in Russia if it paid as much attention to this
country as it does to China, Vratskiy said.
Tesla Motors had global
revenue of $1.1-billion in the first quarter, the same amount Russians spent on
luxury cars in January through May, according to market researcher Avtostat.
The Palo Alto, California-based company said last week it delivered 11 507
Model S sedans in the second quarter. It aims to deliver 55 000 vehicles
globally this year.
Vratskiy said he and other
members of the Tesla fan club have written to the company several times to urge
it to expand into Russia, but the answer is always the same—the country just
isn’t a priority.
Tesla said it doesn’t sell
its vehicles in Russia, so it doesn’t “provide warranty, charging solutions,
service, or assistance with the necessary steps to legally import” its cars. It
had no comment about when it might enter the market.
With relations between the US
and Russia at their worst in a generation due to Putin’s support for the
rebellion in Ukraine, that position seems unlikely to change anytime soon.
For Musk, a 44-year-old
native of South Africa, entering the Russian market is complicated by another
of his businesses: closely held SpaceX. Formally known as Space Exploration
Technologies, it won US Air Force certification in May to conduct military
missions while a joint venture of rivals Boeing and Lockheed Martin is being
limited because of political pressure over its use of Russian rockets.
With no entry in site, Tesla
enthusiasts in Russia like Vratskiy will have to continue paying a premium to
the private traders that are stepping in to meet demand. Two dozen Model S cars
are currently being advertised on Avto.ru, the country’s largest online
marketplace for vehicles, for as much as 11-million rubles ($195 000) each.
But Tesla buyers beware of
the Moscow fender bender: The nearest service centre is in Finland, about 900km away. – Bloomberg
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