Green

White House responds to Tesla direct-sales petition: Sorry, talk to Congress

A Tesla Model S car.

Above: A Tesla Model S car.

Image Credit: Tesla Motors

Fully a year ago, a Tesla supporter started a petition on WhiteHouse.gov asking president Barack Obama to let Tesla Motors sell its electric cars directly to consumers in all 50 states.

While it got the necessary 100,000 signatures, it has taken the White House a year to respond  — and its answer is a polite apology for not being able to intervene.

In essence, the response notes that auto sales are traditionally regulated by individual states, and preempting the many different laws that prohibit direct sales by automakers to customers would require Congress to act.

Of its 10 paragraphs in the response, exactly two sentences actually address the reasons for rejecting the petition.

The first: “As you know, laws regulating auto sales are issues that have traditionally sat with lawmakers at the state level.” And the second: “We understand that pre-empting current state laws on direct-to-consumer auto sales would require an act of Congress.”

The rest of the post is a summary (with links) of what the Obama Administration has done to improve fuel efficiency in new vehicles, spur innovation in vehicle powertrain technology, and reduce carbon emissions to address climate change.

The White House response is attributed to Dan Utech, who’s listed as a special assistant to the president for energy and climate change.

Protecting non-existent franchisees

Tesla has been fighting efforts in many states to rewrite auto-dealer franchising laws so that they prohibit any direct sales by any carmaker to any buyer.

Historically, these laws had prohibited direct sales where they would compete with existing franchised dealerships–of which Tesla has none.

The White house response essentially kicks the issue over to a body that is currently paralyzed with partisan battles and election-season politicking.

In May, the current U.S. Senate was unable to bring to a vote a relatively innocuous energy-efficiency bill with support on both sides of the aisle. Senator Rob Portman [R-OH], one of its sponsors, called the failure “a disappointing example of Washington’s dysfunction.”

So it borders on the surreal to suggest that legislation which harms the professed interests of auto dealers — who are often campaign contributors at a state level, along with their state trade associations — could be introduced in the Senate, let alone the even more bitterly divided House of Representatives.

Response “timid,” Tesla says

Tesla itself blasted the response as “timid” in a statement issued Monday by Diarmuid O’Connell, the company’s vice president of business development.

“Rather than seize an opportunity to promote innovation and support the first successful American car company to be started in more than a century,” O’Connell wrote, according to Politico, “the White House issued a response that was even more timid than its rejection of a petition to begin construction of a Death Star.”

O’Connell noted that the Federal Trade Commission had supported direct sales, calling that action “leadership exhibited by senior officials” at the agency and called the White House response no more than passing the buck.

“We would have hoped for stronger leadership and more action,” he wrote.

Back over to you, Tesla advocates.

This story originally appeared on Green Car Reports.