Tesla isn’t going to let a little legislation slow it down.
The electric car maker, whose stock has soared 145 percent so far this year and now boasts a market value of nearly $10 billion, hit a speed bump last week after the Senate Commerce Committee in North Carolina unanimously approved a plan that would essentially stop direct-to-consumer sales of Tesla vehicles in the state.
The measure, backed by the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association, would make it a requirement to sell automobiles through third-party dealerships. It would also prevent manufacturers from selling vehicles in the state over the Internet. That would cut at the heart of Tesla’s direct sales approach, and would be harsher than other states such as Texas and Arizona where the car maker faces similar legislative bottlenecks.
Slate pointed out the irony of it all, noting that “North Carolina doesn’t seem to have a problem with Apple selling its computers online or via its own Apple Stores.”
It was with that backdrop this evening that George Blankenship, the charismatic former Apple retail executive who now serves as vice president of sales and ownership experience at Tesla, arrived in Seattle for a cocktail reception hosted by wealth management firm McAdams Wright Ragen.
Blankenship had some fascinating comparisons to make between Tesla and Apple. (I’ll get to that in a follow-up post).
But I also got a chance to ask Blankenship about his thoughts on the legislation now making its way through North Carolina. Here’s what he had to say, noting that they’ve opened stores in both Arizona and Texas where similar legislation exists.
“We believe firmly that being a good citizen is as important to us as sales and customers. So, what we do, we work with the state, we work with the county, we work with the city and we work with the DMV in every single state where we are open, and we do whatever they say we need to do. So, in Texas, we can’t sell cars. So, we opened up a gallery that looks just like Bellevue, and we fill it with employees, just like in Bellevue. And we have customers come in and ask us all of the same questions, and we answer all the questions for them. We just can’t talk to people about price, and we can’t sell them a car. So, they go to TeslaMotors.com and they buy a car out of California.
So, we believe in being good citizens. If we can’t sell cars in Texas, we will … sell them in California. But the good news, from our standpoint, is that most of the big states — California, New York, Washington, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois — we have licenses. So, it is not an issue. We don’t see it as an issue. Do we wish that it wasn’t happening? Sure. It would be better if it wasn’t happening…. It’s an inconvenience.”
It does seem to be an inconvenience. Tesla reached profitability for the first time in its 10-year history during the first quarter, posting record sales of $562 million as it delivered a better-than-expected 4,900 vehicles.
Follow us on Twitter @GeekWire.