This week, people in Maryland got the news of Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature of HB 235, the so-called “Tesla Bill.” The law allows, for the first time, makers of electric cars to sell directly to consumers, bypassing traditional auto dealerships.
During the last few years, a number of states have prevented Tesla Motors from selling cars directly to consumers. They have enforced laws that require the use of independent dealers to complete sales.
In the Summer 2014 issue of Regulation professor Daniel Crane explained that these laws are a legacy of past battles between dealers and legacy automakers like GM and Ford over the distribution of wealth losses during recessions and the number of dealerships whose fixed costs must be supported relative to Toyota and Honda.
This history has little to do with niche manufacturers like Tesla that do not want to use dealers. But dealers do not want the possibility of non-dealer sales to spread to traditional manufacturers. HB 235 codifies this sentiment. It allows Tesla and other electric car makers to sell directly to consumers. But it preserves the status quo for all other traditional cars and trucks, whose dealers understood that not allowing a Tesla exception would focus undue attention on their regulatory protection and perhaps cause voters to demand more fundamental reform.