Tesla Store - Portland OREnlarge Photo
After more than an hour of discussion last night, the town selectmen of Natick, Massachusetts, voted 4-1 to grant a license to sell cars to Tesla Motors Massachusetts.
The local company, which the Selectmen concluded was legally separate from Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA], will operate out of a property on West Central Street in the town.
Tesla has operated a showroom or "gallery" at the Natick Mall since September, but is not allowed to sell its electric cars there.
The Massachusetts Auto Dealers Association had sued the company over its store, saying that, among other things, Tesla's service center in Watertown is too far from the Natick facilities.
That suit remains pending, although a judge denied an injunction to prevent Tesla from opening its facilities, saying the dealers did not have standing to sue.
Tesla's plans have also been opposed by the owner of Bernardi Honda in Natick.
Car dealers in most states have successfully lobbied for laws preventing automakers from opening company-owned dealerships, which could compete unfairly with independently owned dealers.
Tesla Motors, however, has no franchised dealers--but in many states and nationally, auto-dealer groups are now organizing to prohibit Tesla from selling its cars in any fashion except through independently owned dealers.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said the company feels that established dealers who make the bulk of their money from selling gasoline cars would not be properly incentivized to sell its electric cars--which render those gasoline vehicles obsolete.
But auto dealers clearly feel viscerally threatened by the notion that Tesla buyers are not required to use conventional auto dealers. In October, the National Auto Dealers Association said it was seeking a meeting with Tesla to explore "serious concerns about Tesla's intentions."
2012 Tesla Model SEnlarge Photo
Its chairman William Underriner said NADA "has 'a whole mess of lawyers in Washington' who work on state franchise laws," which presumably the dealer group could deploy in every location Tesla seeks to open a store or service facility.
That's exactly what happened in Colorado in early 2010, when the state dealer group got the law changed. It used to protect franchised dealers from competition by their auto brands; now it flatly bans any automaker from opening any facility, period. Tesla has just a single store in the state, which opened before the law changed.
Meanwhile, though, those electric-car advocates and interested Tesla fans in and around Natick will now be able to go into a local store, learn about the Tesla Model S, and perhaps even order one.
The 2012 Tesla Model S was named the Green Car Reports 2013 Best Car To Buy yesterday.
[hat tip: Boston Tesla owner Robert Stoddard]