Texas governor Greg Abbott told Bloomberg radio recently that Tesla shouldn’t expect to open Lone Star state sales outlets any time soon. “Texas has a very robust, very open, very effective automobile sector that seems like it’s working quite well the way that it is. If you’re going to have a breakdown in a car, you need to have a car dealership there to make sure that the vehicle is going to be taken care of. We haven’t seen that from Tesla.”
According to a report in Automotive News, Tesla has four maintenance centers in Texas. It wants to sell its cars directly to consumers in Texas but has been stymied by a powerful dealership lobby. Currently, Texans who wish to buy a Tesla can visit one of three “galleries” in major cities to view the cars, but they can’t test drive one or discuss price. Instead, they must go to another state or order online and have a car shipped to them.
Tesla has been challenging dealer franchise laws around the country, claiming they constitute an unfair monopoly that costs consumers billions. Auto dealers counter that the practice protects family owned businesses and their customers. In 2015, Tesla scored important victories in New Jersey, Georgia and Maryland but lost legislative battles in Michigan, Connecticut and Texas.
Texas is an important market for Tesla because it is the second largest car market in the United States with $81 billion in annual sales. Only Californians buy more cars. This year, CEO Elon Musk visited state lawmakers in Austin when the legislative session began in January. He also hired 20 lobbyists and spent more than $150,000 on campaign contributions. But those efforts came to naught. Bills the company sponsored gained little traction, failing to make it out of committees for a full vote in either the House or Senate. The Texas legislature will not meet again until 2017.
If the Tea Party movement has a spiritual home anywhere, it is in Texas, where local politicians from the governor on down extol the virtues of free enterprise unfettered by the heavy hand of government. But the shabby treatment accorded to Tesla gives the lie to those vaunted core principals. Clearly, many of those alleged Tea Party adherents are for sale to the highest bidder, despite their protestations of ideological purity.
One Texas resident put the spotlight directly on this pattern of hypocrisy in a comment online:
Texans like me have to buy their Tesla elsewhere – kind of like the colonists did with tea. Tea Partiers have the revolt backwards. Today, Tesla is playing the part of the Americans. Franchise dealers are the Tories. Americans will eventually win. I’d like to throw the franchise dealers and their paid lobbyists into a big pot of hot tea. A government telling me I can’t buy a car directly from a company just because that company will not adhere to an archaic franchise dealer system is tyranny.
The unofficial motto for the Lone Star state is, “Don’t mess with Texas.” But don’t count Elon Musk and his minions out. This battle isn’t over yet. In fact, governor Abbott and his cronies may be gloating now, but anyone who has followed the trajectory of Musk’s career may think the wiser motto would be, “Don’t mess with Tesla.”
Source: Automotive News
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