Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Tensions ran high at a legislative interim committee hearing Tuesday, as state lawmakers questioned Tesla representatives about a proposal that would allow the electric car company to open storefronts and service centers in New Mexico.
Senate Bill 255, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, would amend a state law that prohibits vehicle manufacturers from selling directly to consumers rather than through a franchise dealership.
Tesla says the law prevents it from maintaining any brick-and-mortar presence in the state; dealers have argued the rule protects them from manufacturers opening their own dealerships and destroying the franchise model.
A similar measure was introduced last year by Ortiz y Pino but was never voted on.
Rohan Patel, Tesla’s director of policy and business development, testified on behalf of the company along with Meredith Roberts, Tesla’s senior policy adviser. Patel said the current rules mean New Mexico’s approximately 450 Tesla owners either have to drive or tow their cars out of state for major repairs. Minor repairs are typically handled by the company’s mobile mechanics.
“Our customers (in New Mexico) go through a lot. … And we want to create jobs here,” Patel saod in his testimony to the Courts, Corrections & Justice Committee.
The hearing at the University of New Mexico’s Science and Technology Park drew a standing-room-only crowd, with dozens of people who described themselves as Tesla owners.
Patel told lawmakers that Tesla has no interest in franchising its products because it wants complete control over the customer experience.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, blasted Tesla for seeking “monopolistic control by giant tech companies” and accused Patel of minimizing the economic impact of the state’s car dealerships.
Candelaria also invoked the specter of two Tesla projects that never came to fruition here: an Albuquerque manufacturing plant that was announced in 2007 but eventually was built in California, and a lithium-ion battery “gigafactory” that began construction in Nevada in 2014, though New Mexico was a finalist in the selection process.
“Tesla has now said to New Mexico, ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ twice,” said Candelaria. “Why do you deserve special treatment?”
Patel acknowledged those decisions had affected New Mexico but said changing the law is in the best interest of the state’s consumers.
During the public comment period, Brian Dear, founder of the Tesla Owners Club of New Mexico, said he had to book a hotel in Denver when his car needed service. Tesla owner Katie Stone told the committee she found it alarming that an impoverished state such as New Mexico would turn down an opportunity for additional tax revenue.
“Why are you so wedded to these current manufacturers?” Stone asked lawmakers. “Did (Tesla owners) not donate enough to you?”
No one spoke in opposition to the bill during the public comment period. The New Mexico Automotive Dealers Association did not respond to a request for comment.