2013 Tesla Model SEnlarge Photo
Since President Obama launched Petitions.WhiteHouse.gov in 2011, scores of Americans have filed petitions with the federal government.
Some have been fairly straightforward, like the one hoping to raise the minimum wage to $11 per hour, and another asking the U.S. to formally condemn the Turkish government's reaction to protesters in Istanbul.
Others have been somewhat more...frivolous. One insisted that the federal government force Beyoncé to release a new single. Another demanded that the U.S. build its own Death Star. (The administration's response? "Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?" Touché.)
Now, one electric car fan is hoping the platform can help Tesla overcome the many franchise laws that have inhibited the automaker's ability to sell cars.
Most states have passed laws that prevent automakers from opening showrooms of their own and selling products directly to consumers. Such laws are intended to give dealer franchises a fair shake: otherwise, car companies could swoop into markets and offer cars at deep discounts, creating unfair competition.
But Tesla doesn't want to sell through franchises. CEO Elon Musk says that Tesla wouldn't be on even footing in such a situation. It's too small to create its own network of dealerships, and adding Teslas to other dealerships would put Musk's electric cars at a disadvantage, because salespeople would invariably steer customers toward other vehicles.
And so, Musk has created a network of Tesla "galleries", many of which are located in shopping malls. Consumers can view Teslas in those galleries, but they can't take them for test drives, and they can't purchase them, either; for that, they have to go online.
Dealers contend that Tesla's scheme follows the letter of the law but violates its spirit. They say that Tesla's galleries may not be conventional showrooms, but they have most of the same features and operate in essentially the same way.
And so, dealers have been fighting back, with minimal success. In the courts, Tesla seems to be winning, but Musk and his team have also been working hard to convince state legislators to introduce changes to franchise laws. Things got a little rough in Texas recently, but in New York and North Carolina, the company still has a fighting chance.
A few weeks ago, one Tesla fan from Stow, Massachusetts tried to lend Musk a hand by filing this petition at WhiteHouse.gov:
WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO:
allow Tesla Motors to sell directly to consumers in all 50 states.
States should not be allowed to prevent Tesla Motors from selling cars directly to customers. The state legislators are trying to unfairly protect automobile dealers in their states from competition. Tesla is providing competition, which is good for consumers.
As admirable as other Tesla fans may find it, the petition has a long row to hoe:
1. For starters, franchise laws are state laws. And if the Supreme Court has taught us nothing else this session, it's that state laws trump federal laws in many, many cases.
2. Perhaps most importantly, after several weeks, the petition has only collected just over 18,500 signatures, and it needs a total of 100,000 to be considered by the administration. The deadline to reach that goal is next Friday, July 5.