Can't Buy a Tesla at the VA Tesla Showroom

A blog about business and economics.
June 25 2013 4:30 PM

Why Tesla Has a Showroom in Virginia Where You Can't Actually Buy a Tesla

A Tesla at a dealership at the Dadeland Mall on June 6, 2013, in Miami.
A Tesla at a dealership at the Dadeland Mall on June 6, 2013, in Miami.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Stefanie Dazio has a nice piece in the Washington Post profiling a Tesla showroom in Virginia where, curiously, you can't actually buy a Tesla.

The reason? The arcane patchwork of state-by-state laws aimed at requiring auto manufacturers to operate exclusively through third-party middlemen. This is one of these crazy kinds of public policy that it would be extremely hard to get off the ground nowadays, but once entrenched it is extremely difficult to dislodge. Precisely because of pointless rules about auto dealerships, there are auto dealership companies headquartered all around the country. That means most state legislators and all members of Congress represent a guy who owns an auto dealership. Car companies, meanwhile, are headquartered in Michigan or Germany or Japan and even though they're much bigger than dealerships, the dispersed and widespread nature of the car dealership industry gives them extra lobbying ooomph.

Major auto companies and the dealerships they "partner" with are engaged in basically a constant low-intensity political conflict, but when Elon Musk decided he wanted to reinvent the automobile, he decided to try to reinvent the business model as well. Consequently, Tesla doesn't truck with a network of middlemen.

Advertisement

And so in places where a manufacturer can't own a dealership, it's trying to operate venues that are dealerships-that-don't-sell-cars—places where you can come and check out the product but where the salesmen aren't allowed to sell anything. The idea, presumably, is that with a wink and a nod the customer can then head off to the Tesla website and buy the car. But, of course, since there's no good reason for the law in the first place, the risk is that the dealership lobby will change the rules and close this showroom loophole.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Natasha Lyonne Is Coming to the Live Culture Gabfest. Are You?

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 2 2014 11:16 AM Some McDonald's Monopoly Properties Matter More
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 2 2014 11:07 AM Mapping 1890 Manhattan's Crazy-Quilt of Immigrant Neighborhoods
  Double X
Doublex
Oct. 2 2014 11:34 AM Alabama’s Insane New Abortion Law Putting teenage girls on trial may finally be too much for the Supreme Court.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 10:36 AM How Bad Will Adam Sandler’s Netflix Movies Be?
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM Surge Pricing Is Not Price Gouging
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 2 2014 9:49 AM In Medicine We Trust Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?