Tesla tussle

Ken Simmons
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The Tesla car company is going through an interesting challenge in its home country.
Tesla? It's only the most successful electric car company ever. Its three models have sold thousands of units, and the company's revenues for 2013 topped US$2 billion. The most vocal member of the owners' group is Elon Musk, he of the X-Prize, SpaceX and PayPal fame.
Dude has credentials.
But, apparently, not quite enough juice to keep legislators in five states (so far) from banning Tesla's sales model. That is, Tesla wants to sell cars directly, without the intervention of an independent dealer.

Dealers, quite understandably, feel this is a less-than-excellent idea. Some have petitioned state governments to step in. Amazingly, five have done just that, banning sales or limiting Tesla's presence in their sphere of influence.

In Texas, for example, Tesla is fully welcome to set up display galleries for its line of vehicles. Staff there can explain the technology and outline paint colours, one must assume, but they cannot help a customer buy the popular car. Not so much as discuss price, or slip them a card with an out-of-state dealer who can order the car and await the new owner's collecting roadtrip.

That technological discussion, says Tesla, is exactly why it wants to bypass the dealer network. It fears salesmen with little brand loyalty, driven by commission cheques, will have little patience for talking potential volt-burners through the initial stages of a possible plug-in purchase.

The dealers counter that they are vital to customer protection, wringing the best deal from the makers, advocating with warranty companies, offering a variety of selection and comparison potential that direct sales will never be able to match.

Valid arguments? Perhaps, but you still can't help but think the real bottom line for both parties has a dollar sign. A Tesla can cost more than $100,000, and the added overhead of a dealer network would surely push that cost higher. (Mind you, if you can drop $100,000 on a glorified toaster, will you care if the cost is actually $110,000?)

The dealers may well feel their very survival is at stake, and they may be right. The iTunes and Amazons - and pot dealers - of the world have shown consumers gonna consume, and no amount of legal fighting and stomping of feet will change that.

Their best defence to that may be the service they claim they are trying to protect. Maybe if they did offer the best deals, work for the buyer in warranty cases and give them a reason to trust the dealership, Tesla's brave new world won't look so daunting.

Ken Simmons, The Telegram's new media editor, breathes exhaust and exhales clean, fresh air. Twitter @Ken_Simmons_NL/Tumblr


Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Texas

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