Industryweek 11316 Jeff Roberts

He's Seen the Enemy, and It's Tesla

June 22, 2016
A car dealership attorney says a small niche automaker is creating a big fuss about how cars are sold in the U.S.

The Federal Trade Commission had billed its event as a Washington forum for “seasoned experts” to discuss the car-dealer-franchise system and state laws that support it.

But the ensuing anti-dealer tone and content of the January session surprised Jeff Roberts, an attorney who represents several dealerships.

Several vocal anti-dealer activists at the hearing claimed franchise laws thwart innovation and competition, he says. “The (FTC) director in a 5-minute tirade said, ‘If we could do away with (the dealer-franchise system) tomorrow, we would.’

“I thought, ‘I didn’t realize it’s an issue.’” But then Roberts thought it through. He came to a conclusion. “It’s an issue because of Tesla.”

The electric-vehicle maker has fought state-by-state to circumvent franchise laws so it can sell its EVs factory-direct rather than through dealers, as legislatively mandated.

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