Three years ago, the North Carolina Senate unanimously passed a bill to ban American electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors from selling cars in our state. I was not a Tesla owner at the time (I am now), but I knew this was bill was wrong so I wrote the article Why We Need to Fight for Tesla and I drove to our state capitol to lobby the state legislature to not block the most successful electric car manufacturer in the world from selling cars in our state. We ended up winning that battle when the NC House killed the bill, but the war against electric cars in North Carolina continues.
Tesla has been operating sales out of its Raleigh, NC location since March 2013. In February of 2015 Tesla filed for their second sales license in North Carolina for their Charlotte location. However, the DMV still has not issued their sales license. How can they do that, you ask? Under NC’s franchise laws, manufacturers are barred from selling direct with certain exceptions. One of the exceptions is where “the commissioner of the DMV determines after a hearing on the matter at the request of any party, that there is no independent dealer available in the relevant market area to own and operate the franchise in a manner consistent with the public interest.” This is specifically to protect intrabrand competition. For example, if you apply for a license to sell GM cars and you are setting up your shop across the street from an already existing GM dealership, a hearing would be called by the existing GM dealer to request a certain amount of “safe” space — so the new GM dealer would have to go 50 miles away or some pre-determined distance from the pre-existing dealer.
In Tesla’s case, of course, there are no franchise dealers in Charlotte, or anywhere else in the world, and hence no intrabrand competition. NC’s franchise act simply shouldn’t apply where Tesla has no franchise dealers. A hearing would be pointless in Tesla’s case, and this was the rationale in DMV issuing Tesla’s Raleigh license without a hearing. But the NC Automobile Dealers Association has been lobbying against Tesla in an attempt to block legitimate competition, when this law was, in fact, intended to be a tool to protect the investments of existing dealers. It’s going to be difficult for the DMV to apply a law meant for intrabrand competition to Tesla, which has no intrabrand competition.
Since there is no one else selling Tesla in Charlotte, what exactly will be happening at this hearing tomorrow? When I called the NC Department of Transportation commissioner’s office, they told me that the public would not be allowed to testify at the hearing, which seems strange because the results of this hearing directly affects the public; indeed, the hearing is supposed to be conducted for the public interest.
When competition is limited, consumers lose — the Federal Trade Commission has chimed in on this multiple times in various states agreeing with Tesla’s positions. North Carolina has no right to refuse Tesla’s sales license and make it difficult for Charlotte residents to purchase the most successful electric car brand in the world, which happens to be made in America. I hope the result of the hearing tomorrow reflects the will of the people of North Carolina, who have shown overwhelming support for Tesla’s right to sell cars in our state. If it does not, then there is something very wrong with the process and North Carolina residents need to let their voices be heard.
It is essential for humans to evolve to more sustainable ways of living on this planet in order to not destroy the world around us. A key part of this evolution is the move to sustainable transportation in the form of electric cars powered by renewable energy. State laws blocking Tesla from selling electric cars stand in the way of that evolution. We cannot allow North Carolina — or any other state — to get away with this corruption of democracy. I, for one, will be at tomorrow’s hearing to testify — if NC’s Department of Transportation will allow me to speak.
If you would like to attend, the hearing begins at 10:00 am ET Tuesday, May 3rd, at the North Carolina Department of Transportation located at 12033 E. Independence Blvd. Suite F in Matthews, NC.