In an incredibly public display of insecurity in their abilities as an auto manufacturer, General Motors recently backed a bill that would block American electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors from selling cars in Indiana. It was shelved for later study, but Tesla has faced direct bans in five states: Connecticut, Michigan, Texas, West Virginia and Utah. In Utah, at least, the issue is being litigated as a misapplication of law and is now before the Utah State Supreme court.
In 2013 I was personally involved in fighting against a similar bill to block Tesla in my home state of North Carolina. Although I was not a Tesla owner at the time, I knew I wanted to be and so I drove to the State Capitol and met with every lawmaker who would see me, lobbying for Tesla’s right to sell cars in my state. Tesla won — or so I thought. Almost three years later, although there is a Tesla location just 28 miles from my home, on March 31 I will have to make a 300-mile round trip from my home near Charlotte to Tesla’s Raleigh location in order to place an order for the upcoming Tesla Model 3. Why? Because although the bill to block Tesla in North Carolina was defeated in 2013, Mecklenburg County continues to deny a sales license for Tesla’s Charlotte location. (Update: Tesla Motors has confirmed they will take reservations for the Model 3 at all locations, even ones without a sales license — like Charlotte. When I published this article, Tesla had not yet determined what would happen at locations with no sales license and I was told I would have to drive to Raleigh to reserve a Model 3.)
There is no shortage of fans of Tesla Motors, their following and customers include a slew of A-list celebrities, including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Leonardo DiCaprio, Steve Wozniak, Jim Cameron, and the list goes on. The Tesla Model S won Motor Trend Car of the Year — the first electric car to ever win — and scored the highest rating ever given out by Consumer Reports: a perfect score of 100. Consumer Reports went so far as to say it is “the best-performing car that Consumer Reports has ever tested.” As a Tesla Model S owner myself, I couldn’t agree more. But when something rises so far above the competition, it makes its competitors, like GM, very nervous. Nervousness causes people — and companies — to do stupid things.
Last year Hellman’s Mayonnaise tried to sue Hampton Creek, a start-up manufacturer of a vegan mayonnaise called Just Mayo. They tried to claim that Hampton Creek could not use the word “mayo” because the definition of mayonnaise includes eggs in the list of ingredients. Their lawsuit backfired in the most spectacular way — the story went viral and gave millions of dollars’ worth of free media exposure to the small vegan start-up. Coming across as a bully trying to shut out the new kid on the block didn’t work out so well for Hellman’s. Just Mayo flew off the shelves, and just recently Hellman’s announced they’re launching their own vegan mayonnaise. It appears Hellman’s finally figured out the meaning of the phrase: if you can’t beat them, join them.
In light of GM’s ridiculous effort to block a fellow American car manufacturer, I decided it was time to share this email sent to me back in 2008 by a design engineer at GM.
His email was in response to an email I sent announcing my participation in a press conference on Capitol Hill to support the Climate Security Act. The GM engineer actually sent me two emails but the second contained a confidentiality clause at the bottom. He forgot to attach the clause to this one, a small mistake he might be regretting right about now.
I’ve decided to protect the name of the guilty, if for no other reason than to not expose him publicly for his dreadful spelling abilities and his inability to understand basic grade-school climate science.
I’d like to offer some advice to GM: if you are so threatened by Tesla’s success that you feel the need to pass laws to block them from selling cars, may I suggest that instead of spending your energy trying to block your competition (which makes you look like a jerk), your time would be spent more wisely concentrating on designing cars that can compete with Tesla in a free market — one that allows the customer to choose how they want to buy their car. Do you think perhaps the free market is speaking and telling you: it’s time for you to improve your product? Perhaps this is a hard pill for you to swallow, being one of the “big three,” but it’s what the patient needs, and your doctor, the consumers, have written the prescription for you.
One American car company tries to block innovation while the other disrupts the status quo in the very best way, a perfect example of the free market at work.
I do believe that the fact that GM is trying to block their competition from selling cars while Tesla shares their patents with the world speaks volumes about who they are morally and ethically as companies.
And while it may seem counter intuitive, all these legal battles Tesla is fighting is actually a good sign. One of my favorite Gandhi quotes is: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
GM is fighting because Tesla’s ability to build a superior product is scaring them. And they — along with every other automotive manufacturer in the world — should be scared because you know what comes next, right? Tesla wins.