Four states are now in the running to become the site location for Tesla Motors' (NASDAQ:TSLA) $5 billion lithium-ion Gigafactory. Arizona, Texas, Nevada, and New Mexico are all fighting for a chance to bring billions of dollars and upwards of 6,500 high-paying jobs to their respective states. However, Arizona may have taken the lead this week as a state Senate panel approved a bill that would allow Tesla to bypass auto franchise laws in the state.
The final four
Tesla Motors is locked in brawls with auto dealers in certain states that say Tesla is operating outside the law by selling its all-electric cars directly to consumers. New Jersey joined Texas and Arizona last week to become the third state to prohibit Tesla's direct sales model. On March 11, Gov. Chris Christie's administration unanimously voted to ban direct car sales in the Garden State, thus passing a rule that will force Tesla to stop selling its cars in New Jersey as soon as April 1.
Nevertheless, New Jersey is still small potatoes compared with Texas and Arizona, which both have much larger auto markets. Perhaps, more importantly, Arizona now appears to be reversing its stance on the dealer-vs.-Tesla issue. "Tesla Motors would be allowed to sell cars in Arizona without establishing a dealer network under a bill approved by a state Senate committee Wednesday," according to the Associated Press.
While the bill is reportedly unrelated to Tesla's plans for a multibillion-dollar Gigafactory, the timing couldn't be better. Arizona is one of the four finalists vying for Tesla's massive lithium-ion battery plant. Moreover, it's not likely that Tesla would choose to invest $5 billion in a state where it's direct sales model isn't welcome.
In fact, Tesla's vice president of business development told Bloomberg, "The issue of where we do business is in some ways inextricably linked to where we sell our cars." Arizona seems to be taking that to heart. The updated Tesla sales bill in Arizona would let companies sell cars directly to consumers under two conditions: First, said company must only manufacture electric vehicles. The company must also operate a service center in the state, according to the AP.
Supporting American innovation
Unlike the century-old franchise laws that protect auto dealer cartels, these stipulations are rational and fair. Tesla should be able to sell its cars directly to consumers in the United States, because unlike traditional auto dealers, Tesla doesn't have pre-existing franchises that could be hurt because of this direct sales model. Not to mention, as Tesla chief executive Elon Musk explains, "Existing franchise dealers have a fundamental conflict of interest between selling gasoline cars, which constitute the vast majority of their business, and selling the new technology of electric cars."
Ultimately, Arizona's push to allow Tesla to sell its cars in the state certainly puts it ahead of Texas in the race for Tesla's Gigafactory. However, the bill still needs to go through the full Senate before Tesla is granted access to sell its cars in the state.
Tesla will keep proving the critics wrong
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