Have we just seen the first crack in the facade of auto-dealer opposition to Tesla Motors selling cars directly to retail buyers?

An opinion piece in auto-industry trade journal Ward's Auto concludes with the following remarkable sentences:

We can keep Tesla busy defending what are basically nuisance suits.

But it will prevail in all states one at a time. Or there will be some sort of sweeping federal action in its favor.

ALSO SEE: Tesla Wins Dealer Battle In MA: Direct Sales, Stores Are Legal

With the feisty title of "Who's Afraid of Elon Musk?", the piece is written by regular Ward's commenter Jim Ziegler, president of Ziegler Supersystems in Atlanta.

He describes himself a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues.

Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

The laws that dealers are using were originally put in place to protect franchised dealers against competition from the carmakers whose vehicles they sell.

Tesla has no franchised dealers, of course, so state dealer associations have worked over four years to expand the law to prevent any carmaker from selling direct to consumers under any circumstances--a very different application of the law.

But given the ensuing state-by-state battles waged by auto-dealer bodies against Tesla's direct-sales model, the admission in Ziegler's commentary seems quite remarkable.

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Ziegler, of course, doesn't speak for the National Automobile Dealers Assocation (NADA), which is a powerful lobbying force in Washington, DC.

Earlier this year, the association attempted to mount a public-relations campaign to explain why auto dealers are the best and only legal way to sell cars to buyers. We haven't seen much of that effort lately.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

Meanwhile, the skirmishes continue. Tesla won its court battle in Massachusetts to keep its Tesla Stores open and sell cars online directly to buyers.

That victory has led the company back into court in New Jersey on Tuesday. Automotive News (subscription required) notes that it argues the state's regulators erred in changing New Jersey's franchise laws.

While the New Jersey issue may be resolved legislatively before arguments are heard, there will inevitably be more such court cases, likely with mixed results.

But is admitting the possibility of defeat is the first step toward admitting defeat?

We suspect Tesla's legions of owners, fans, and advocates will feel so. Only time will tell; meanwhile, it's a fascinating war to watch.


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