Tesla has found itself in another round of legal warfare. This time, a judge has ruled that the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association has standing to challenge a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles decision allowing Tesla to open its planned Richmond dealership, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
After an hourlong hearing Monday, Richmond Circuit Court Judge Gregory Rupe ruled that VADA is an “aggrieved party” that can legally appeal to the circuit court to challenge the DMV’s December decision to grant Tesla’s application for a new dealership.
The ruling does not affect whether the store can open, but it does allow VADA’s challenge to proceed in court.
The dispute is over Tesla’s direct-to-consumer model, which allows the company to bypass traditional dealerships and sell through its showrooms or online design studio. VADA argues that Tesla should be required to sell its cars through independent dealerships, citing a state law that tightly restricts manufacturers owning dealerships.
DMV’s decision to grant Tesla’s application for the Richmond location went against a hearing officer’s recommendation that the EV giant’s request be denied, saying that it did not meet the requirements to be exempt from the state law that VADA cited in its case.
“The court’s decision today is disappointing, but Tesla remains fully committed to doing business in Virginia and serving the public interest in sustainable energy better than any franchise auto dealer could,” Tesla said in a statement on Monday. “As the lawsuit proceeds, we will continue to vigorously defend the right of consumers in Virginia to purchase directly from Tesla.”
The Richmond dealership would be just the third Tesla showroom in the state, joining the company’s locations in McLean and Vienna, Virginia, both of which are near Washington, D.C.
This is just the latest courtroom showdown for the Silicon Valley-based electric carmaker, which has recently been in a high profile battle with Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan, as well as on the losing end of a bill signed by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards banning Tesla’s direct sales in the state. Both of those states, as well as Utah, Connecticut and Texas, ban Tesla sales, while New Jersey has strict constraints on the company’s sales. These states all cite dealership laws similar to the one in the Richmond case.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk once compared local car dealers to a mafia protection racket, stating in a blog post, “The rationale given for the regulation change that requires auto companies to sell through dealers is that it ensures ‘consumer protection’…Unless they are referring to the mafia version of ‘protection’, this is obviously untrue.”