Paging Dr. Tesla? Automaker to Make House Calls

Taking a cue from house-call services like Best Buy's Geek Squad, electric carmaker Tesla Motors is launching a maintenance plan where mechanics travel to owners' homes or offices to perform repairs and tuneups.

Tesla, which makes the $109,000 Roadster electric car, said the plan is convenient for customers who won't have to bring their vehicle to a showroom, while cutting costs by making a large network of Tesla service locations unnecessary.

"You know how there's a Chevy dealer on every block or strip mall? We don't intend to have a footprint like this," spokeswoman Rachel Konrad said.

But the service won't be cheap. The carmaker will charge vehicle owners $1 for every roundtrip mile its technicians travel, from showroom to garage, with a minimum charge of $100 per trip.

For the Tesla driver in Manhattan, where the company opened a store over the summer, the cost won't be much. But for Roadster devotees in Honolulu, that's a charge of about $4,800 per trip — not including the cost of repair.

Still, Konrad said the maintenance cost will still be low because electric cars have fewer moving parts and require less "care and feeding" than vehicles powered by internal combustion.

The company said it got the idea for the plan after it issued a recall of hundreds of Roadsters in May to address a steering problem. Rather than ask owners to bring the vehicle to a showroom — there are only four currently in the U.S. — it sent technicians to repair the cars at their homes and offices. The response was overwhelmingly positive, Konrad said.

The San Carlos, Calif.-based startup has so far sold about 700 Roadsters, its only vehicle on the market now. The company in June was approved for $465 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy to help it build next-generation electric cars.

It has plans to introduce an electric sedan, the Model S, which it hopes to price under $50,000 after government rebates when it goes on sale in 2011.

The new service plan will be standard for all new Tesla vehicles and current owners will have their warranties updated so they are covered by the new plan, Konrad said.