An attempt to change state rules that require cars to be sold from dealerships was buried in a flood of Texas Automobile Dealers Association cash, but that's not stopping Tesla from opening its third Texas gallery today, this one at NorthPark Center.
Visitors to the section of the mall between Dillard's and Macy's will be able to chat with Tesla representatives, check out a Model S and see a stripped-down version of the car that exposes its electric powertrain, Tesla spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson said.
Because of state restrictions, the gallery employees will not be able to take orders, offer test drives or even discuss price with visitors, Georgeson says. Those rules make Texas one of five states in which Tesla is completely forbidden from selling directly to consumers.
To get a Tesla, Texans must order one of the electric cars online, take delivery from a third-party service and wait at least 48 hours before getting any help from Tesla with the car. It's onerous, but Georgeson says there are still more than 2,000 Model S owners in the state.
John Shackelford, an attorney who represents North Texas car dealers, says carving out an exemption by which Tesla would not, as all other manufacturers are, be required to sell cars through a dealership would lead to the end of dealerships.
"In time, all of the major manufacturers are ultimately going to want to move in that direction and eliminate the dealers" he says. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing? That's something, if that ever came about, for society to debate."
The difficulties faced by those who want to buy a Tesla, like having to go to a different state to test drive one or being unable to roll the considerable sales tax on one of the $70,000-plus cars into an auto loan, isn't a big deal, Shackelford says, because only the wealthy can afford one.
"If you want a Tesla, we're not talking about your middle income type person working their butt off to make ends meet," he says. "Those 2,000 Tesla owners are more affluent. A lot of those guys aren't even test driving them because they know what they can do."
State Representative Eddie Rodriguez of Austin says the dealers' concerns are overblown.
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"It's these guys job to say, if this happens, the sky will fall," he says. Rodriguez believes that Teslas are a unique product that will have very little effect on longstanding dealerships.
Rodriguez sponsored a failed bill in the last session to allow direct Tesla sales to Texans, Under Rodriguez's plan, once Tesla sold 5,000 cars in a year, they would need to have dealerships like any other manufacturer. Still, his bill, and a similar Senate bill. didn't even make it to a vote.
Tesla plans to offer a cheaper model, rumored to be in the $40,000 range, by 2017. Rodriguez says he's still hopeful that purchasing one of the cars will be easier by then.
Increased publicity for the cars, the possibility of a Tesla battery plant coming to Texas and the fact that Tesla founder Elon Musk has already invested in the state with a SpaceX facility outside of Waco could change many legislators' minds, Rodriguez says.