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Tesla adds Idaho lobbyist, prepares for battle with auto dealers

Tesla adds Idaho lobbyist, prepares for battle with auto dealers

Dustin Hurst
March 3, 2015
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March 3, 2015

Upstart auto maker Telsa is officially in the game here in the Idaho Capitol after the company registered a lobbyist with the secretary of state’s office last week.

Amy Lombardo, an attorney for Parsons, Behle & Latimer, registered on Tesla’s behalf Feb. 26, just one day after the Idaho Automobile Dealers Association pitched legislation that would restrict the company’s entry into the auto market.

Lombardo declined to give a statement to IdahoReporter.com Monday. She discussed the bill’s details with House Transportation and Defense Committee Chair Joe Palmer, R-Palmer, after his panel met.

The association’s bill would change a few words in Idaho law to prevent companies like Tesla and Elio from selling their products directly to consumers. Instead, the dealers want the builders to work through franchises, as is required in every state.

For his part, Palmer also declined to comment on the bill and said he needs to review it further before assessing its merits.

Idaho is only the latest front in auto dealers’ war on Tesla and other direct-selling manufacturers. The National Auto Dealers Association, with the help of state-based affiliates, continues opposing any efforts by Tesla or well-meaning lawmakers to loosen franchise restrictions.

Just last month, NADA’s Connecticut offshoot launched an all-out offensive to kill a bill to exempt Tesla and other electric vehicle makers from the franchise restriction.

NADA’s chairman pledged in a recent interview to continue the assault, saying he believes the franchise model is best for consumer choice.

But Tesla and other builders can occasionally triumph despite opposition. In Texas, for example, Tesla is making strides in its fight against restrictive state laws.

Tesla is not the only one watching the Idaho fight closely. Elio, a startup and builder of a hyper-efficient three-wheeled car, isn’t happy about the auto dealer bill.

“Most people believe the Legislature certainly should not be involved in mandating a particular business plan for any company,” Joel Sheltrown, government relations manager at Elio, told IdahoReporter.com “This type of protectionism is certainly contrary to the free enterprise system which has brought much success and growth to this country through competition.”

Sheltrown said previously his company will follow all applicable laws regarding dealing automobiles, but hinted there might be a middle ground to satisfy all industry players.

“Perhaps a compromise could be struck that would allow manufacturers who never in the past, nor currently have a franchise relationship, be allowed to use the direct sales model,” Sheltrown explained.

“Current franchises would be protected, yet innovative new products could use whatever pathway to the market they choose, either franchise or direct sales.  Elio Motors would support such legislation.”

Palmer has not set a date for the in-depth discussion on the bill. The Legislature’s only car dealer, Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, is the measure’s legislative backer.

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