Last week, a Massachusetts judge sided with Tesla regarding factory-owned stores, in a suit brought by Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association and an assortment of dealers. Barring an appeal, the ruling essentially clears the way for Tesla to operate their own outlets – some of which are in non-traditional venues like shopping malls – and offer an online reservation system for vehicles.
The ruling brings into question the very nature of the independent dealer model, the laws that currently protect it, and its sustainability. OEMs have experimented with venues that merely act as showrooms, rather than ones that sell cars, as well as outlets that blur the line between an “experience center” and a factory store – the most recent example being the Chrysler pseudo-factory “Motor Village” in California.
Tesla, for one, uses the online ordering system to skirt the dealer franchise laws in various states, since they are not technically selling cars there. But that didn’t stop dealer groups from suing them anyways. Robert O’Koniewski, the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association Executive Vice-President, claimed that the group did have standing to sue Tesla, because
“If you read the statute, it’s pretty clear: A factory cannot own a store, and a dealer can sue for injunctive relief if they feel the public is being harmed.”
Now, we’re faced with a few questions
1) What constitutes a “factory owned store”, and did Tesla knowingly operate in a manner not consistent with the definition of a “factory owned store”?
2) Was the public being harmed?
3) What impact will this have on OEMs and their decision to operate outside of the traditional dealer network?
I will leave numbers 1 and 3 up to you, the B&B, because I am not well versed in the intricacies of U.S. franchise law, and many of you have real-world experience at the dealer level. As for number 2, I’d say “probably not”. But O’Koniewski does seem to think that the dealers are being harmed, and sounds rather desperate when discussing the matter just a few months earlier.