Tesla Direct Sales Thwarted by Laws that Protect Dealers Instead of Consumers
(p. B3) Tesla Motors Inc. hopes to capture mainstream auto buyers with its Model 3, an electric car it plans to unveil this week at a price about the same as the average gasoline-powered vehicle, but it may need a federal court ruling to succeed.
The Palo Alto, Calif., auto maker's direct-to-consumer sales are prohibited by law in six states that represent about 18% of the U.S. new-car market. Barring a change of heart by those states, Tesla is preparing to make a federal case out of the direct-sales bans.
The auto maker's legal staff has been studying a 2013 federal appeals court ruling in New Orleans that determined St. Joseph Abbey could sell monk-made coffins to customers without having a funeral director's license. The case emerged amid a casket shortage after Hurricane Katrina. The abbey had tried to sell coffins, only to find state laws restricted such sales to those licensed by the Louisiana Board of Funeral Directors.
For now, Tesla is banking on a combination of new legislation, pending dealer applications and other factors to open doors to selling directly in Arizona, Michigan, Texas, Connecticut, Utah and West Virginia. But the company said it is ready to argue in federal court using the coffin case if necessary.
"It is widely accepted that laws that have a protectionist motivation or effect are not proper," Todd Maron, the auto maker's chief counsel, said in an interview. "Tesla is committed to not being foreclosed from operating in the states it desires to operate in, and all options are on the table."
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"There is no legitimate competitive interest in having consumers purchase cars through an independent dealership," Greg Reed, an attorney with Washington D.C.-based Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning law firm, said. He calls Michigan's laws "anti-competitive protectionism."
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(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 28, 2016, and has the title "Tesla Weighs New Challenge to State Direct-Sales Bans.")