Tesla continues its push to bring its “direct to consumer” sales model to more states. The practice is specifically banned in several states — Arizona, Michigan, Texas, Connecticut, Utah, Alabama, and West Virginia. It is under attack in others, including Virginia and New Jersey. But Tesla continues its slow, inexorable march toward being able to sell its cars anywhere in America.
Tesla’s reasoning for preferring the direct sales model is that electric cars are fundamentally different than conventional cars. Whether you are buying a Hyundai or a Lexus, the focus is on the sales experience rather than the car. Quite simply, all cars are pretty much alike. Turn the key, put it in drive, and go. The only real differences are perceptual — how does the car make the driver feel. In theory, higher priced cars convey a sense of wealth and power that has little to do with what’s under the hood.
Electric cars, on the other hand, are totally different. Customers have an array of questions about battery range, recharging options, regenerative braking, battery life, and dozens more topics. The old “slam ’em into a car and wave goodbye” methods perfected by the nation’s car dealers over the past 100 years just don’t work. Tesla maintains that auto dealers really don’t want to do anything that might reduce the number of gas-powered cars they sell. Furthermore, they have no interest in training their sales staff in how to sell electric cars.
Tesla’s concerns are borne out by independent authorities. A new report by the Sierra Club confirms that, in general, conventional dealers do a lousy job of selling electric cars.
This year, Tesla is turning its attention to the state of Utah. It thought it had broken the logjam in the Utah legislature earlier this year with a bill introduced by state Representative Kim Coleman, but by the time it came to a vote, so many amendments and compromises had been added to it that Tesla withdrew its support and the bill was voted down.
The New Car Dealers of Utah Association continued to insist that only franchise dealers should be allowed to sell cars to Utah citizens because they invest in local communities. Autoblog calls this the classic “we sponsor Little League teams” argument. This fall, Tesla will try again.
In Alabama, meanwhile, State Senator Tom Whatley has filed a proposed Senate Bill 22 that would “allow a manufacturer of alternative fuel vehicles to sell and lease its vehicles directly to the public.” That would apply to Tesla and other manufacturers of cars fueled by electricity, natural gas, or propane. At the present time, direct sales are deemed “an unfair and deceptive trade practice” in Alabama.
If passed, Tesla would be allowed to sell its cars directly to Alabama residents. It would also likely lead to the construction of important new Supercharger location along the heavily traveled Interstate 10 transportation corridor.