All Brian Dear wants is to be able to take his car to a local dealership or service center for maintenance.
If he owned a Subaru or Toyota or Ford or Chevy, there are lots of choices in New Mexico. But Dear owns a Tesla Model S, and the last time he needed service, he had to drive to Scottsdale, Ariz. When that didn’t work, he came back to Santa Fe and called Tesla, and the company sent one of its technicians to pick up the vehicle and haul it to Denver on a flatbed.
“I shouldn’t have to go to extraordinary measures to get my car fixed,” he said.
But New Mexico is one of a handful of states that prohibit a car manufacturer from offering direct services to the public without going through an agency agreement with a locally owned dealership.
Dear is hoping to change that — and is planning to educate state lawmakers and the public about the need to update the laws to better reflect innovations around the economy of electric vehicles.
He is the first to say this won’t happen during the 30-day legislative session that began last week, but he and other Tesla owners will attend events at the Roundhouse to lay the groundwork for what they see as needed reforms. He has some 50 Tesla owners as part of his club — not just from Santa Fe and Albuquerque, but also from Las Cruces and Roswell.
“Our goal next week is to educate the Legislature about the benefits of clean, electric vehicles, as well as to seek ways to accelerate the widespread adoption of electric vehicles across the state,” Dear said.
The 1997 state law was in place long before Tesla and was intended to protect local businesses from having to compete directly with automobile manufacturers.
But Tesla doesn’t have dealerships, in part because there are just a few basic models sold over the Internet, and electric vehicles in general require less maintenance.
Dear’s Tesla is like a work of art. It’s quiet. There is no oil, no tailpipe, no gas tank — not even a drive train. The car is a one-speed automatic with 1,600 pounds of battery.
The dashboard features a large, interactive display much like an iPad, and connects to the AT&T cellular system when there is no Wi-Fi. The vehicle is always connected to its mothership — the Tesla manufacturing center in California, which sends data logs back and forth, pushing adjustments when needed.
Dear said he can go 260 miles between charges. When he charges the battery at home, it costs $50 a month, but Tesla is working on administering a nationwide network of solar-powered charging centers that car owners can use for free.
The biggest negative in a place such as Santa Fe that has a winter season: The Tesla takes longer to heat up because there is no gasoline to warm the engine.
“You kind of forget the whole experience of gas stations. Why would someone pour a large reservoir of flammable liquid in their car?” Dear asked.
Like a new parent, Dear is a proud Tesla owner and very attached. A technology entrepreneur, he now lives in Santa Fe and is taking time off to write a book. He sees electric vehicles as the wave of the future.
He also sees the current restrictions as another example of how laws haven’t changed fast enough to keep up with innovation. Imagine Apple not being able to open a direct retail store because Best Buy or Target wanted to sell its products instead, he said.
The New Mexico Automobile Dealers Association did not respond to a request for comment on this article. But the law itself was written with the idea of protecting consumers from big corporate companies based out of state that might be tempted to impose vehicle pricing or options on buyers.
The dealers were seen as advocates for local buyers.
“It is the policy of this state and the purpose of this act to exercise the state’s police power to ensure a sound system of distributing and selling motor vehicles and regulating the manufacturers, distributors, representatives and dealers of those vehicles to provide for compliance with manufacturer’s warranties, and to prevent frauds, unfair practices, discrimination, impositions and other abuses of our citizens,” states the law.
State Sen. Peter Wirth, D- Santa Fe, said he will back changing the laws. “It was shocking to me to learn that these Tesla owners in New Mexico have to have their cars towed out of state for service. That was was eye-opening,” he said.
Wirth said the dealership restriction is another example of how legislation has not kept up with technology. “These are the types of changes happening, and the laws need to adjust,” he said. “I hope we can have a constructive discussion.”
Dear acknowledges his cause is not exactly blue collar. The car he drives cost about $90,000 with tax, and he guesses there are just a few hundred Tesla owners in the state — with 50 participating in his club and lobbying effort. The Tesla Club of New Mexico is planning to park outside the state Capitol on Tuesday and again on Renewable Energy Day, Jan. 29.
But Dear also believes that despite the recent drop in gasoline prices, electric cars are the future, and states need to adjust their policies to serve those constituents.
Tesla, he added, is poised to introduce a more affordable Model 3, which might mean thousands of more owners. And all those owners will be looking for a place they can take the car for service.
“Right now, it’s this enormous set of hassles for owners,” he said. “If Tesla could open up a few service centers in the state, that would bring us some jobs.”
Contact Bruce Krasnow at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the law
Language from the Motor Vehicle Dealers Franchising Act, 57-16-5 paragraph V
It is unlawful for a manufacturer, distributor or representative to:
V) be licensed as a dealer or perform warranty or other service or own an interest, directly or indirectly, in a person licensed as a dealer or performing warranty or other service; provided that a manufacturer or distributor may own a person licensed as a dealer for a reasonable time in order to dispose of an interest acquired as a secured party or as part of a dealer development program.
If you go
The Tesla Club of New Mexico will be parking vehicles outside the Capitol on morning of Tuesday, Jan. 26, before appearing in the Senate Gallery at 10:30 a.m.
Members of the Tesla Club will return to the State Capitol to participate in the Renewable Energy Day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29