PALO ALTO (CBS SF) — More 100,000 people have signed an online petition urging President Barack Obama to oppose efforts by states to block Palo Alto-based Tesla Motors from selling its electric cars directly to consumers, a company spokeswoman said Tuesday.
The White House petition drive, started by an anonymous Tesla supporter on June 5, had 101,000 signatures as of Tuesday, beyond its goal of 100,000 by Friday, spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson said.
Only 5,000 had signed the petition as of last Tuesday but a surge of signers came in after Tesla sent out an email blast to its customers calling for signatures, Georgeson said.
The 100,000-signature threshold is the minimum required within 30 days to warrant a response from Mr. Obama under the terms of his “We the People” online petitions at whitehouse.gov, Georgeson said.
“The White House will take it under advisement and prepare a response,” Georgeson said.
The online signature drive comes as some states have considered legislation advocated by auto dealers to prevent Tesla from marketing cars in its stores instead of conventional dealerships, Georgeson said.
The petition’s message reads: “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,” according to whitehouse.gov.
Tesla sells its electric vehicles in stores and customers order them individually online for delivery to bypass the “middleman” process where dealerships have their markups and patrons have to haggle over prices, Georgeson said.
“It’s more of an educational environment for our customers and they don’t have to feel the pressure to make a purchase,” Georgeson said.
“The dealership is not a fit for our product,” she said. “It’s about building cars customized for our customers.”
Tesla, which sells cars that run on rechargeable batteries, currently has 36 car stores in the world, including 25 in the United States, Georgeson said.
At least two states, Texas and Virginia, have laws restricting Tesla to so-called “gallery” stores where cars are displayed but customers may not sit in, test drive or buy them and cannot even talk about prices, Georgeson said.
Texas remains a strong market for Tesla, where customers often fly to California to try the car, buy them online and have their cars delivered, Georgeson said
Bills that would have banned or limited Tesla from operating its stores failed to pass this year in the New York, North Carolina and South Carolina legislatures, Georgeson said.
But Stephen Smith, president of the Silicon Valley Auto Dealers Association in San Jose that represents 60 dealers, said Tesla is trying to avoid competing fairly in the car market.
Auto dealers have to follow state franchise laws, some going back to the 1930s, that protect consumers that Tesla does not, such as a California statute limiting car brands to only one dealership within a 10-mile radius.
“There’s nobody for them to compete against as far as pricing,” Smith said.
Tesla also has buyers finance purchases through the company itself, while dealers have to follow federal and state laws governing financing with banks and credit unions, Smith said.
The car dealers with showrooms and car lots also have to invest in service and repair centers while Tesla has no service centers, giving it another unfair competitive advantage, Smith said.
Dealers are not opposed to Tesla’s rechargeable battery-powered car, just how the firm does business, Smith said.
“It’s a competition thing for us,” he said.
Georgeson countered that Tesla does have a service program where repair people come directly to customers’ homes to work on their cars and 90 percent of its customers live within 100 miles of a company service location.
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