Why you can't legally purchase a new Tesla in Alabama

Tesla owners say it is a hindrance of technology, while supporters say it protects business in Alabama.

Posted: Oct. 2, 2018 8:11 AM
Updated: Oct. 2, 2018 10:04 AM

For better or worse, Tesla vehicles continue to garner plenty of attention around the world - sometimes for awards and accolades for technology, other times for issues with the self-driving mode or the recent fines against founder Elon Musk. However, anyone in Alabama wishing to purchase a new Tesla must cross state lines to do so. While you can build and order a Tesla online, you can't legally purchase one in Alabama. A state law prevents car manufacturers from directly selling their vehicles to consumers, the business model of Tesla. Instead, cars must be sold through a franchised dealership.

"I think it is to create a level playing field between automobile dealers and the companies they represent," said Tom Dart, president of the Automobile Dealers of Alabama Association.

However, Tesla owner Scott Hammond said he'd like to see at least one showroom open up in Alabama. He enthusiastically showed off the technology in his Tesla Model 3, for which he waited two years to take delivery. He picked his up this past spring at a showroom near Nashville.

Multiple states had similar stipulations in place as Alabama, but Tesla or lawmakers successfully lobbied for changes to allow limited sales. We contacted Tesla and asked if they plan on trying to lobby for changes in Alabama, but only received a statement where they declined to specifically comment.

Hammond has an idea he believes is a compromise - service centers in Alabama.

"Personally, just having a compromise where you allow them to have brick and mortar service centers in the four major cities - that'd be huge," said Hammond.

Dart's response? "The last time I checked, maybe a year ago or so, there were no more than 200 or so Teslas in Alabama, so it isn't enough to justify the construction of service centers. I don't think that is much of an issue." He also said he tried to run current numbers of Teslas registered in the state, but they weren't available. He estimated the number is now up to maybe 500.

Multiple other car manufacturers build and sell electric vehicles through their dealerships in Alabama. Mainstream companies like Honda, Toyota, Ford, and Chevrolet abide by the laws to market their product.

"Chevy Volt, Nissan, there are others - everyone is run through a dealer network," said Dart. "They have facilities in place to repair the models. We just think that is a better model."

The state does not lose any money if someone purchases a Tesla in another state, because you must still pay tax and fees to register it in Alabama.

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