Almost 100,000 Russians follow Elon Musk’s unofficial social media page, yet the Tesla founder seems to be promoting his electric car everywhere but in Russia.
As a result, enthusiasts like Andrey Vratskiy must go to great lengths — and expense — to own one, Bloomberg reported.
Vratskiy, 33, a software executive, wanted to swap his BMW X6 for a US$75,000 Tesla S so badly that he agreed to pay almost double for it.
As Tesla has no sales network in Russia, he had to buy the car in the United States and spend US$12,000 to fly it to Moscow, where it cost US$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,” the report quoted Ivan Streshinskiy, who manages most of Alisher Usmanov’s US$14 billion fortune as head of USM Advisors, as saying.
Streshinskiy 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 lenders, respectively.
For Gref, who served as economy minister during President Vladimir Putin’s first two terms, not even the US-led sanctions that cut off his bank from the global financial system can curb his appreciation of the American car.
“It doesn’t pollute nature and it’s super cheap and easy to use,” Gref was quoted as saying.
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 Inc. had global revenue of US$1.1 billion in the first quarter, the same amount Russians spent on luxury cars from January to May, market research firm Avtostat said.
The Palo Alto, California-based carmaker said last week it delivered 11,507 Model S sedans in the second quarter. It aims to deliver 55,000 vehicles worldwide 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 no entry in sight, 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 (US$195,000) each.
But Tesla buyers in Moscow, take note: The nearest service center is in Finland, about 900 kilometers away.
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