It might be the most fun you’ll ever have behind the wheel of a car. Tens of thousands of them are already on the road. But it’s illegal to sell them in the state of Texas.
“The law in Texas is really challenging for us,” said Alexis Georgeson, a spokeswoman for the electric car company Tesla. “The law in Texas prevents us from being able to sell cars. We can’t give test drives. We can’t discuss price. We can’t take orders.”
Nevertheless, Tesla is opening up a store at the Northpark Mall on Friday to show off their technology and generate buzz, even though they can’t sell cars.
Tesla’s Model S is an all-electric car that promises that get you 300 miles on a single electric charge.
“You can drive all day long without needing to worry about charging, going wherever you need to go,” said Georgeson. “Model S is fully electric. Those 300 miles are free of gasoline.”
More than 30,000 Teslas are already on the highway around the country.
The Model S can go 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds, has 416 horsepower, no gas engine, no transmission, no oil. Instead, the car has a massive 1200-pound battery.
But California-based Tesla can’t sell its cars directly to customers in Texas because of the state's so-called “Dealer Protection Laws.”
“Really what these laws are doing is just making it tough on the Texas consumer,” Georgeson said.
That’s why Tesla is calling it a “gallery” and not a store — even though they do sell clothes and merchandise. There are Model S cars sitting in the gallery, so salesmen can show off what the car is all about.
The Tesla Gallery opens at the mall Friday morning.
Tesla has already opened similar galleries in Houston and Austin over the last two years. This is the companies first foray into North Texas.
“We have a lot of early adapters here, people who are interested in the technology,” Georgeson said. “We’ve noticed a lot of interest here with people that want to know more about the company and electric vehicles in general.”
Tesla said they want to see more electric cars on the road on Dallas highways.
“Texas is a strong market for us,” Georgeson said. “This is the future.”
So why can’t Tesla simply sell their cars to Texas customers, like they can in other states?
Texas law currently forbids automakers from operating their own dealerships. That means automakers can’t sell directly to customers.
Georgeson explains: “The point of that law is so that Ford, let’s say, can’t open up its own dealership right next to mom-and-pop ‘Smith Family Ford’ and undercut their business, and force them out of business. The law is meant to protect locally owned dealerships and allow them to thrive, so that an out-of-state manufacturer can’t come in and be the only game in town.”
“We certainly understand that. But the spirit of the law certainly isn’t being fairly applied here in Texas. It’s the most restrictive law in the country we face. We are a startup company. We don’t have independent dealerships. We need to sell to customers. We’re a car business that needs to sell cars,” she continued.
Customers in Texas can still buy a Model S, but it’s not an easy process.
“The burden really is on the consumer,” Georgeson said. “It’s not fair. There are clearly people in Texas who want to own and drive a premium all-electric Sedan, where they don’t have to rely on gasoline.”
All sales must be completed online, and Tesla employees can’t help facilitate the process. The car must be registered first in California, and then the owner can either pick up the vehicle in California or pay extra to have it shipped to Texas. Then the car must be re-registered in Texas. A burdensome process, Tesla said, that costs customers thousands of dollars in extra costs.
But the biggest obstacle, Georgeson said, is that it’s illegal to offer test drives.
“These cars really sell themselves once a customer gets behind the wheel. It’s that simple. But we can’t give test drives in Texas.”
The Model S weighs 4,600 pounds. Its battery weighs 1,200 pounds. It retails for $69,900-though Tesla is quick to point out customers can get a $7,500 federal tax credit.
The Model S comes standard with a 60 kwh battery that can go 230 miles on a single charge. Customers can upgrade to an 85 kwh battery that goes 300 miles on a charge.
The company recommends using a 240 volt outlet to charge the battery in a garage, the same voltage used for a standard washer/dryer outlet. The battery takes between 5-8 hours to charge.
However, Tesla has “supercharger stations” every 150 miles from coast-to-coast that can fully charge the car in 20 minutes. Those hundreds of locations are available to display on a Google map in the center console.
And while Tesla is certainly a high-end, pricey car right now at just under $70,000, Tesla said they’re committed to getting the cost down to $35,000 in three years. The biggest obstacle is the cost of the battery and Tesla has plans to open a $5 billion new battery factory that will make them cheaper and lighter.
“With volume, the cost goes down. And we’re talking about a $5 billion investment.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is lobbying Tesla to bring that $5 billion battery manufacturing plant to the Lone Star State. Tesla expects to make a decision in early 2015. Perry has said he’s open to revisiting the state’s rigid dealer protection laws if that’s what it takes to bring the company to Texas.
New Jersey’s similar dealer protection law was overturned by the state legislature earlier this month.