Investor's Corner

Strange Bedfellows for Tesla Motors in Michigan

Tesla Michigan plant

There seems to be some action brewing to combat the direct-to-consumer ban in Michigan by Tesla Motors and some friends. To catch everyone up, legislators in Michigan created an “enhanced” law that would ban automakers from selling vehicles direct-to-consumer or even creating service centers in 2014. Back in 2014, some industry and legal analysts thought the law might even prevent Tesla Motors from showing its vehicles at the Detroit Auto Show in January 2015.

The law is known as the anti-Tesla bill and received a boost from General Motors.

We reported on Tesla’s strategy to overturn state laws in 2015 and the “chairman of the board” if you will, Elon Musk, put it succinctly at the Detroit Auto show last year:

Reporter: Would Tesla ever build cars in Michigan?
Musk: “It’s not out of the question. Maybe Michigan shouldn’t stop us from selling cars here.”

Now, it seems Tesla’s strategy may be to partner with other conservative groups rather than unilaterally taking state legislatures head-on to combat this silly protectionist law. The political allies are illuminating: the Michigan Christian Coalition, Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, Michigan Federation of College Republicans, Michigan Moose Assn.

“It’s time Michigan recognizes the rapidly evolving market changes impacting the new-car industry,” says Michigan Christian Coalition Chairman Keith den Hollander says in a statement and reported on by Wards Automotive. “Consumers want more choices and more convenience,” says Hollander. “They don’t want to be forced by the government to buy their cars from a certain type of monopoly retailer.”

More importantly, Tesla Motors made sure millenials in Michigan were part of this coalition. From the Wards article:

“Consumers should be able to choose to shop at a Tesla store or at a traditional dealership, depending on their preference and the kind of car they want to buy,” says Casey Kreiner, chairman of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans.

This should resonate with lawmakers in not only Michigan, but nationwide in a supposed “change” election cycle –not completely buying it. But Don Trump’s traction in large part is due to his hopeless “special interest” influence narrative on state and federal governments. And that’s for real.

Plus, Tesla Motors bought Rivera Tool and Die Company in Michigan late last year and is looking to invest more in the car capital of the U.S., according to the electric carmaker.

For Tesla Motors, the coalition building could be a blueprint for going after other states to open their doors in 2016 and beyond. This could include Texas, Wisconsin, Iowa, South Carolina, Utah, Arizona and Connecticut, where a libertarian strain runs, at least, on the surface.

It also means untapped demographics in cities that would be favorable to Tesla’s brand and upcoming cars, such as the Model 3. The whole capital of Madison, Wisc. — a lot of Priuses — would be overrun by Model 3 cars, Austin, Tex. and affluent cities in Connecticut could help sales for the Model S into 2017.

Bottom line, Tesla sees a wounded duck in Governor Rick Snyder and the libertarian streak runs real deep in Michigan. Seeing Tesla Motors in Michigan would be symbolic on many fronts. First and foremost, it could be seen as the U.S. coming out of the protectionist “dark ages” and embracing an alternative (& better) car industry.

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