Elon Musk: If Tesla Can't Sell Cars In Texas, It'll Be At "The Back Of The Bus"

April 11, 2013

Yes, you read that headline correctly: Elon Musk is essentially calling himself a Freedom Rider, comparing Tesla's push to sell all-electric vehicles to America's Civil Rights Movement.

CEOs say the darndest things.


As we reported on Monday, Musk has spent the past week in the Lone Star state, lobbying legislators to bend the state's franchise laws and allow Tesla to do something that no other automaker can do in Texas: sell cars directly to the public.

According to AutoNews, Musk testified before a House committee, arguing that due to Tesla's high-tech rides, the company should be permitted to sell vehicles on its own. Distributing its cars through franchises would put Tesla vehicles at a disadvantage, Musk said, because dealers responsible for selling them would naturally steer shoppers toward gas-powered cars, which make up the vast majority of their sales.

That reasoning seems a little specious to us. After all, plenty of Nissan dealers sell both gas vehicles as well as the all-electric Leaf, and other major dealers sell a growing number of hybrids and plug-ins alongside their combustion-engined counterparts. We're not so sure that customers interested in an electric car like the Tesla Model S could be persuaded to spend their dough on a gas vehicle, or vice versa.

Texas legislators didn't seem to buy that argument, either, and the Tesla-backed bill was left floundering in committee -- but not before Musk ratcheted up the tenor of the discussion. 

Before leaving the hearing, Musk basically argued that forcing Tesla to distribute its vehicles through franchises would be equivalent to the "separate but equal" doctrine that sowed racial discord throughout the U.S. from the late 19th century until Brown v. Board of Education and beyond. Musk claimed that maintaining the status quo puts Tesla "at the back of the bus". 

And as if that weren't sensational enough, Musk added, "[F]or us, it's a matter of life and death".


Perhaps realizing that his passionate testimony wasn't playing well in laid-back Austin, Musk has since tried another approach. Speaking directly to AutoNews, Musk announced yesterday that if things work out in Tesla's favor, the company would soon invest millions of dollars in new Texas-based stores and service centers.

What's more, he said that within three years, Tesla could build a plant in Texas -- its first outside California.

We understand why Musk is pushing so hard in Texas. There's a lot of money in the state, and plenty of folks to buy its pricey, eco-friendly vehicles. And as far as logistics are concerned, building a plant in Texas would make it easier for Tesla to distribute its cars to the eastern U.S.

Clearly, Musk hopes that if the rationale of fairness and equality doesn't sway Texas legislators, the promise of tax revenue and jobs will.

For more on the Tesla/Texas saga, check out this article from our colleagues at Green Car Reports.

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