The case over Michigan’s ‘Anti-Tesla law’ will be dragged out well into 2018 as both sides are expected to provide a list of expert witnesses next month, and the pre-trial “discovery” phase is predicted to take months.
A lawsuit of this magnitude has the potential to set national precedent in commerce and trade regulations as Tesla continues to defend its business model relying strictly on hype and word-of-mouth.
“Any type of lawsuit like this — whether you win or lose — establishes a precedent,” said David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor in an article published in The Detroit News. “It’s hard to change the direction of that. It’s a big deal.”
As Model 3 sales begin to roll out, the law is stifling business in a state where car manufacturing is the largest industry.
The law bars Tesla from practicing its direct-to-consumer distribution model. New auto sales can only be conducted by franchised auto dealerships, which Tesla claims discriminates against out-of-state interests and is an unconstitutional infringement on their preferred business model.
Tesla is currently finding ways around the law — consumers can order their Teslas online but they have to pick them up in neighboring states like Ohio or Illinois.
In Detroit, affectionately referred to as “Motor City,” the automotive industry is the largest industry and largest employer in the entire state of Michigan. Nearly 5 percent of Michigan’s workforce is employed by the auto industry and the industry accounts for $42.4 billion, or nearly 11 percent of the state’s total Gross Domestic Product.
It comes as no surprise that industry giants have powerful lobbyists working to further their agenda. Related political action committees have donated more than $1 million to state office holders since 2011, including all but two active legislators, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network as cited in the article.
Revisions were made to the legislation in 2014, but Musk and company are claiming that these revisions are “protectionist” and are aimed at maintaining the status quo of sales regulations.
Representative Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis), introduced legislation that would allow Tesla and other automakers to distribute directly to retailers rather than franchised dealerships, but the bill went nowhere. Miller is a fervent advocate for free-enterprise and is baffled by the states unwillingness to budge on the matter.
“For me it’s simply common sense,” said Miller. “Refusing any company’s style with protectionist laws is just not the right thing to do. I don’t care if it’s Tesla, a small startup…someone who wants to sell jeans or baseballs directly should not have this sort of barrier to be in the marketplace.”
In addition to the lawsuit, Tesla has also tried to subpoena any correspondence between lobbyists and state legislators containing communications regarding the 2014 amended law.
Tesla claims it subpoenaed the legislators because of a June 2016 statements to the company that it will “not be allowed to operate in Michigan because Michigan dealers and manufacturers do not want Tesla in the state.”
Legislators fought back with their claim that this subpoena is an attempt by Tesla to harass them for not submitted to Tesla’s demands.
A trial date has not yet been set.