Steve Chapman

Gov. Rick Perry is fond of saying that Texas is "wide open for business." A couple of months ago he was in Illinois offering hope to local companies suffering from burdensome government regulation. "There is an escape route to economic freedom," he said, "a route to Texas."

He had a point. His state offers businesses room to roam. But there is an exception: Tesla, a maker of luxury electric cars, which has found that the road into the Lone Star State is a dead end.

Tesla offers a new kind of car, which this year was named "Car of the Year" by Motor Trend. It also has a new way of selling -- directly to consumers, without going through a franchised car lot.

It says the old system inflates the cost of buying a car. It has no faith in existing dealers, who mostly handle gasoline-powered vehicles. "How do you sell the future if your business depends on the present?" a Tesla official has asked.

But that approach faces many obstacles. No fewer than 48 states ban or limit direct sales of automobiles. Some states allow Tesla to sell its cars through company-owned stores. Some allow Tesla to open showrooms but not sell cars in them.

Texas is virtually closed for business. The Austin American-Statesman reports: "You can visit one of the two galleries Tesla Motors operates in the state -- one in Austin, the other in Houston -- but employees can't tell you how much the car costs. They can't offer you a test drive. They can't even give you their website address. And if you buy one, the car is delivered by a third party -- in a truck that's not allowed to have Tesla markings."

The state senate in North Carolina has approved a measure forbidding sales except through franchised dealers. After Tesla opened a store near Denver, the Colorado legislature passed a law to prevent it from opening any more. Illinois, by contrast, allows Tesla to sell cars at company-owned outlets.

The effort to prevent direct sales comes from existing car dealers, who like the arrangement they have. They claim to be trying to prevent "unfair competition," but the competition they prevent looks unfair only to those who profit from a protected market.

Bob Glaser, head of the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association, told the Associated Press, "It's a consumer protection, and why we say that is a dealer who has invested a significant amount of capital in a community is more committed to taking care of that area's customers."


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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