- Associated Press - Thursday, July 8, 2010

PALO ALTO, CALIF. (AP) - Tesla Motors Inc. said Thursday it hired a former Microsoft and Apple real estate expert to help the maker of high-end electric cars expand its network of retail stores.

George Blankenship, 57, joins Tesla as vice president of design and store development.

Tesla recently raised $226 million in an initial public offering and started selling a new version of its Roadster sports car, which starts at $109,000. Blankenship’s work will become increasingly important as Tesla prepares to launch a second, more affordable electric car, the $57,000 Model S, in 2012.

Blankenship spent 20 years at Gap Inc. and served as the clothing retailer’s vice president for real estate strategy. In 2000, he took his expertise in identifying and acquiring retail shop locations to Apple Inc., where he joined the electronics maker’s retail team as vice president of real estate. Apple opened its first store a year later.

In 2009, he joined Microsoft Corp. as a consultant as the company drew up plans for its own network of retail shops to show off PC software, the Xbox 360 video game system and other Microsoft products.

Tesla already operates 13 stores, including its flagship Menlo Park, Calif., store and locations in New York, Seattle, London and Munich. Tesla said Blankenship’s first task will be to open stores in Tokyo, Toronto and Washington. He will be responsible for the company’s long-term retail strategy.

“I’m excited to create a retail experience that is as thrilling as my first drive of the Tesla Roadster,” Blankenship said in a statement.

Shares of Tesla jumped $1.24, or 7.9 percent, to $17.04 in afternoon trading Thursday.

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