From KERA News:
The electric car company Tesla is novel in many ways. It’s a new company trying to sell a new vision of the automobile, and it sells its cars in a different way: directly to consumers, not through a dealership. But in Texas, state law prohibits car companies from selling cars directly. Customers have to go through an independent dealership instead. For three years, Tesla has been trying without success to change that by lobbying Austin. Now it’s lobbying party activists.
At the Texas Republican Party convention in Dallas last month, the exhibitors’ hall had all the usual booths promoting conservative causes and candidates. Smack dab in the middle was something less usual: A cherry red Tesla Model S.
Tesla Fort Worth store coordinator Jesi Hoolihan ticks off the attributes of the $70,000 car: the huge flat screen console in the dashboard, the roomy interior, the way the car plays music when you open the car door.
Detailing a car’s features is about all Tesla employees can do in Texas, even in their own show rooms. They can’t actually sell the cars or negotiate pricing. If a would-be customer wants to take a Tesla out for a test drive in Texas, a special permit is required .
“You can’t go into a Tesla show room, drive the car and say ‘Man, I want that, give me the paperwork,’” says David White, a lobbyist for Tesla in Austin. “You have to go online or call California and get it shipped to you.”
Texas is one of a handful of states that limits car sales to independent dealerships. For Tesla, those dealerships are unnecessary middle men. The company wants to cut them out and sell cars directly to consumers.
“So if you want to buy a Ford from Ford, or a Tesla from Tesla, you should be able to do that,” White says. “Or if you choose, you can go to a dealer if you want to do that. But right now the consumer does not have that option in Texas.”
White brought that bright red Model S to the convention in an effort to get a plank added to the state GOP’s platform supporting the right of Texans to buy cars directly from manufacturers. Think of it as effectively lobbying the Republican base.
The plank passed overwhelmingly. White says he was not surprised by that.
“We preach Texas is wide open for business,” White says. “So if that is the case, we need to end frivolous regulations that prevent consumers from buying direct.”
But if you step into Don Herring Mitsubishi in Plano, you’ll get a different take on dealer franchise laws. Herring sits on the board of the Texas Auto Dealers Association.