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6/05/2016 6:01 am  #1

Tesla Comes to Brooklyn

Tesla Comes to Brooklyn


The curious started to show up at the soaring, gallerylike space in Red Hook, Brooklyn, around 10 on a recent Sunday morning, wearing skaterish black knit caps, or on-trend Italian sneakers, or minimalist single-line tattoos. They paused, as in reverence, at the doorway, taking a quizzical glance at the striking metallic installations (industrial sculptures, in a sense) glimmering on the bare concrete floors.

They had come to this remote waterfront neighborhood, once home to longshoremen and now to galleries and Post-Expressionists, to check out the latest work not by Koons or Hirst but, rather, by Musk — Elon Musk, a founder of Tesla Motors.

In a corporate statement as audacious as anything in the Whitney Biennial, Silicon Valley’s futuristic maker of electric luxury cars has opened a showroom, of all things, in the middle of one of Brooklyn’s edgiest arts quadrants.

“At first I was a little worried,” said Elizabeth Freund, a manager and publicist in the music industry and a longtime Red Hook resident, who had dropped by wearing an imitation-snakeskin rain jacket. “This is largely an arty neighborhood, we’ve kept it rugged and industrial. The people who live here are eclectic, slightly bohemian. You wouldn’t think of us out here as people who are interested in buying cars, and you wouldn’t think you’d want to bring that clientele here.”

To be sure, a Park Avenue-worthy car showroom stands out in an industrial-chic neighborhood once known mainly for its public housing complex (Red Hook Houses) and its Ikea, but, these days, increasingly for its craft distilleries (Van Brunt Stillhouse, Widow Jane), Euro-retro bike shops (Papillionaire) and single-origin organic beans-to-bar chocolate factories (Cacao Prieto), in addition to its many galleries and art studios.

Even so, the Tesla showroom, which opened two months ago, feels oddly Red Hook. Located in a former workshop that rebuilt diesel engines for cargo ships, the gleaming complex, with its track lighting and exposed brick, sits across from the Red Hook Container Terminal, with its hulking cranes looming.

You do not have to be a car shopper, apparently, to think of the showroom as a must-see.

“I’m not really in the market for a car, because I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, but I’m weirdly obsessed with the company, and the mission,” said Maia Wojcik, a founder of a conference called the Fashion Tech Forum.

A manager with a hollow earplug piercing was playing the automotive-industry equivalent of Doc Brown from “Back to the Future,” walking visitors through the Teslas’ many futuristic features: the 17-inch “infotainment” touch screen, the Autopark self-parking option that leaves parallel parking to onboard sensors.

The line includes the Model S luxury sedan, starting at about $71,500, and the seemingly Mars-ready sport utility vehicle (Model X), which starts at about $83,000. The relatively mass-market Model 3 sedan, which the company hopes to release next year, will be priced around $35,000, and already has a waiting list of some 373,000 buyers.

Shoppers seemed receptive to the cars, and the location. Wearing high-waisted jeans and black nail polish, Misha Nonoo, a Manhattan-based fashion designer, was already familiar with the neighborhood from doing a collaboration with Dustin Yellin, a local artist.

Red Hook, she said, is a neighborhood of “forward thinkers,” and Mr. Musk is a genius who is forever “pushing the needle” — to wit, there’s the Bioweapon Defense Mode option on the Model X, basically a mega-air filter that Tesla says is 700 times better at filtering smog and 800 times better at filtering viruses than a standard car’s ventilation system.

“I’m supercurious about the self-driving feature,” Ms. Nonoo said, referring to Tesla’s autopilot function, a sort of “Jetsons”-age cruise control that allows drivers to remove their hands from the wheel, as well as their feet from the pedals, while built-in radar, 360-degree ultrasonic sonar and image-recognizing cameras guide the car through traffic.

Ms. Nonoo imagined the liberation of being able to eat breakfast or send emails while your car drives you to work. “In our business, we’re always talking about taking our woman from ‘day’ to ‘play,’ so we’re all about these timesaving life hacks,” she said.

Others showed up for the same reason that people queue up outside the Apple store for the latest iPhone: the see-and-be-seen glamour of having the latest, the next.

“I always have to have the newest technology that comes out,” said Nikolay Krupelnitskiy, an event planner from Astoria, Queens, who was shopping for a Model S.

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 

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