CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A plan to revolutionize automobile sales has failed to gain traction in West Virginia so far.
Tesla Motors -- a company that manufactures luxury, electric cars -- hopes to streamline car sales by selling automobiles directly to customers. But West Virginian legislators and car dealers oppose that system.
They argue that Tesla's plan threatens West Virginian jobs -- in addition to being illegal. West Virginia law bans manufacturers from selling cars directly to consumers. Instead, it mandates that they buy cars only from the dealerships.
Tesla and its owner, Elon Musk, have challenged similar laws in other states.
The company manufactures "built-to-order" vehicles that customers design online. Tesla subsequently builds and ships the car directly to the customer just a few months after he or she placed the original order, thereby skipping car dealerships altogether.
Advocates for the model argue that built-to-order production could reduce vehicle prices. A report by Gerald R. Bodisch of the U.S. Department of Justice found that the cost of automobile distribution added an extra third to the price of a vehicle, and that built-to-order production could eliminate part of the excess cost.
But opponents hold that Tesla could threaten thousands of jobs provided by car dealerships across the state.
Ruth Lemmon, president of the West Virginia Automobile and Truck Dealers Association, said car dealerships provide nearly 6,000 jobs to the state economy. They also contribute 14.9 percent of the state's total retail sales, she said.
"We're doing everything we can to protect our dealers and employees," Lemmon said. "We would not just step down and not enforce our franchise law."
Gerald "Jed" Smith, owner of Smith Company Motor Cars in Charleston, said he not only provides local jobs, but also donates to Little League baseball teams, cheerleading squads and the University of Charleston, among other local charities and organizations. He questions whether a national company like Tesla would do that.
For now, Tesla does not appear to pose a serious threat to local dealerships.
According to Lemmon, West Virginians only own a few Tesla cars statewide. Furthermore, West Virginia does not have a Tesla store or service center.