A piece of New Mexico state legislation to amend local automotive franchise laws through a “Tesla Bill”, specifically allowing vehicle manufacturers like Tesla to operate as a dealer and sell direct, was approved by the Public Affairs Committee last Thursday.
Similar to other states with dealership protections, car makers wanting to do business in the “Land of Enchantment” must sell their vehicles through a franchise dealership network, and efforts to amend those requirements are always met with significant resistance from lobbyist groups whose members stand to be impacted most. After facing a party-line vote, Democrats ‘for’ and Republicans ‘against’, the law (Senate Bill 243) passed the state’s Public Affairs Committee and advanced to the Corporations and Transportation Committee. After another review and vote, the bill will advance to the Senate floor for a final vote if successful. Given the state’s balance of power – Democrats are in the majority in both houses of the state’s legislature as well as the governorship – Tesla may be well on its way to a full victory in New Mexico.
Prior to the Public Affairs Committee vote, a panel was held wherein advocates both for and against amending the state franchise laws voiced their positions. Overall, supporters (particularly those focused on Tesla’s desire to do business in the state) argued that the bill in question aims to work within the dealership model, not eliminate it. According to Meredith Roberts, senior policy adviser and counsel representing Tesla, “We’re not here to upset (the franchise model)…It’s only additive,” she said in the panel hearing. The language of the bill supports this position via its narrow applicability, allowing direct sales only if the following conditions apply:
- The business does not have any existing franchises in the state.
- The business sells and services only vehicles that it manufactures.
- The vehicles sold must be electric and powered by batteries or fuel cells.
Despite the estimated $4800 tax income New Mexico would gain per average electric vehicle sold, 15-50 new jobs per store opened, and $1 million dollars local economic impact gain from a direct-sales manufacturer like Tesla would bring to the state, those in opposition to the bill maintained that changes to the existing franchise laws would not be beneficial. During the hearing, Charles Henson, president of the New Mexico Automotive Dealers Association, cited the millions of dollars already invested by dealerships, arguing that Tesla’s sales model would create unfair direct manufacturer competition. Another state senator, Jacob Candelaria (D-Albuquerque), likened EV manufacturers’ direct-sales models to giant tech company monopolies. To be fair, with the popularity of the direct-sales model increasing, as all-electric fleets come into being (a stated goal of many current ICE vehicle makers), franchises may end up becoming a thing of the past as the future of clean energy transportation sets in.
While the hand-off from one committee to another is a good step towards the end goal of in-state, brick-and-mortar sales presence for EV manufacturers, the bill still may face an uphill battle despite the political leanings of the state’s legislative majority for reasons outside lobbyist efforts. Specifically, some legislators are a bit put-off by Tesla’s history in New Mexico. A manufacturing plant was announced in 2007 (to be succeeded by the current Fremont factory) and a Gigafactory was teased in 2014 (to be succeeded by the current Sparks, Nevada factory). Since neither of those projects came to fruition within the state, it seems there may be some leftover sour grapes. However, given Tesla’s current inability to do normal sales business in New Mexico, it’s understandable that the all-electric car maker may have based part of their location decisions on their customers’ purchasing abilities in the states where they set up shop, thereby limiting potential liabilities and run-ins with dealership groups. This is something Volvo USA is already experiencing with its company-directed vehicle subscription service.
At this juncture, Tesla is all too familiar with the franchise vs. direct-sales fight. In December last year, a Connecticut judge ruled in favor of Connecticut’s Department of Motor Vehicles on a motion prompted by the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Trade Association (CARA), finding that Tesla’s business activities within the state violated the states automotive franchise law system. The EV company only had one location in the state – a gallery located in Greenwich to inform interested parties about its products, not sell them – but even that was determined to constitute competition and thus banned activity. Legislative efforts to amend Connecticut’s laws by state representatives in favor of Tesla’s sales approach have, thus far, failed. Ironically, Connecticut is also controlled by Democrats in both the legislature and governorship.