Tesla picks Nambé for first NM store

Ruben Valencia, left, with Tesla in El Paso, shows a car to Barry Norris of Taos, during a celebration of the opening of a sales and service center at Nambé Pueblo in northern New Mexico. The store is inside a former casino. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

NAMBÉ PUEBLO — Sleek electric vehicles now sit inside an old casino north of Santa Fe as part of a first-of-its-kind project between Tesla and a tribal nation.

Nambé Pueblo leaders on Thursday joined U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján to highlight the partnership and promote electric vehicles as part of a broader strategy to address climate change.

The new Tesla sales and service center is the first in New Mexico. It’s also the first Tesla facility, officials said, on Native American land in the United States.

“This truly represents a historic moment,” Nambé Pueblo Gov. Phillip Perez told a crowed gathered for the event Thursday.

The pueblo location is critical.

New Mexico law prohibits vehicle manufacturers from selling directly to consumers rather than through a franchise dealership, and efforts to allow Tesla storefronts and service centers have repeatedly failed in the Legislature, often amid tense debate.

But the Tesla store sits within the boundaries of a tribal nation, not subject to the state law.

Even so, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe and Sen. Bill Tallman of Albuquerque, both Democrats, said they expect vehicle-sales legislation to be proposed in future legislative sessions. Both lawmakers attended Thursday’s event.

A 2019 proposal would have allowed electric vehicle manufacturers to sell directly to the public under certain conditions. Local auto dealers opposed the bill, arguing their businesses already support thousands of employees.

Tallman, who drives a Tesla himself, said electric vehicles “are the future” and New Mexico’s laws should keep up.

“I just think we’re going to see more and more companies using this model,” Wirth said of the Tesla store.

The 7,000-square-foot Tesla store lies in what was once a casino building near the Nambé Falls Travel Center. The casino closed in 2016 after about two years of operation.

Two cars were hoisted on automotive lifts Thursday as Tesla enthusiasts and others celebrated the opening.

Perez, the pueblo governor, said Tesla will support tutors and scholarships for Nambé Pueblo students. He delivered some of his remarks in Tewa, a native language, as he welcomed visitors to the site along U.S. Highway 285.

The company’s values, Perez said, match the pueblo’s commitment to environmental protection.

Sen. Luján, who grew up nearby, said the project represents investment “in rural America” and that he looks forward to seeing the first Tesla pickup truck.

Heinrich, who has a mechanical engineering degree, said he and other students at the University of Missouri once designed and built a solar-powered car for a race across the United States.

“I’ve seen this coming for a long time, but now it’s real,” he said of the growing prevalence of electric vehicles.

For Tesla owners, the new location will make it easier to get car repairs and avoid the drive to service centers out of state, such as in Colorado or Arizona.

Brian Dear, founder and president of the Tesla Owners Club of New Mexico, said he hopes the project will also encourage more people to buy electric vehicles as a way to cut gasoline costs and reduce carbon emissions.

“There’s nothing better if you’re buying a car than to get in it and drive around,” Dear said. “I was completely sold when I did a test drive in 2013” in San Diego.

He estimated about 1,500 Tesla vehicles are registered in New Mexico.

A standard-range Tesla Model 3 costs about $39,990 before potential discounts are factored in, according to the Tesla website. An autopilot navigation feature costs $10,000 extra.

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