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Lawrence O’Donnell: Tesla deserves the ‘free flow of commerce’


Electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors wants to sell its prized Model S in as many places as it can, but a complex web of state laws made to protect local car dealerships is putting the brakes on their plans.

In Virginia, for example, Tesla has a gallery to show off its new car, but thanks to state law no potential customers are allowed to buy one there. The company is struggling with similar bans in North Carolina, Texas, Minnesota, and New York.

The relationships between car manufacturers and local dealers are old and entrenched. “Automakers book cars as sold once they leave for the sales lots and in return provide the retailers with financing,” writes Reuters’ Antony Currie. “Over time, the practice has been enshrined in laws across the 50 states.” With dealerships and dealership headquarters all across the country, their political clout is widespread.

“Think about how crazy that is,” said Lawrence O’Donnell in his Rewrite on Tuesday. “Think about it while holding your phone. Here’s an iPhone. You can buy it directly from the manufacturer, Apple. You can do that online at Apple’s website or you can walk into one of Apple’s beautiful stores, palaces of electronic temptation, and buy one over the counter, and chat up a Genius while you’re at it. Or you can buy one at Best Buy or all sorts of independent stores and online vendors. There’s no limit to how many different ways you can legally buy a new iPhone in this country. That’s the American way. Except when it comes to cars.”

Public frustration with Tesla’s struggles has found an outlet on the White House’s website, where a petition was started to “allow Tesla Motors to sell directly to consumers in all 50 states.” As of Tuesday, the petition exceeded the 100,000 vote threshold required to get a response from the White House.

“Tesla is as close as we’ve come to an automotive miracle,” O’Donnell said, “but it will take an even greater miracle for America’s hypocritical anti-free market state legislators and governors to stop using their regulatory powers to crush innovators who compete with the businesses that–through campaign contributions and, no doubt, other means–have purchased the services of those legislators and governors.”