Last June, a petition filed on the White House’s “We The People” site about direct-to-consumer car sales took less than a month to reach 100,000 signatures, the threshold required for a response from the Obama administration. “State legislators are trying to unfairly protect automobile dealers in their states from competition,” the petition read, and it made no bones about Tesla’s direct-sales efforts standing out from the standard dealership sales model found throughout the United States. Late Friday afternoon, more than a year after the petition’s filing, White House spokesperson Dan Utech’s response went live. After praising Tesla’s efforts in “innovation” and helping America “reduce our dependence on oil,” Utech passed the buck: “Laws regulating auto sales are issues that have traditionally sat with lawmakers at the state level.”
The American people demanded that President Obama help Tesla battle state regulators so that it could sell its electric cars directly to consumers. But the White House says it won’t get involved. More than 138,000 people signed a petition on the White House’s official online petition platform, WeThePeople, to “allow Tesla Motors to sell directly to consumers in all 50 states.” Since the petitioners reached the (difficult) 100,000-signature threshold, the White House was required to give a response. But the White House skirted the issue in its blog post yesterday: “Laws regulating auto sales are issues that have traditionally sat with lawmakers at the state level,” wrote Dan Utech, special assistant to the president for energy and climate change. Throughout the country, including in Texas and Arizona, car dealers have managed to block car manufacturers from bypassing them as middlemen in the sale of cars to consumers. In many states, Tesla is only allowed to operate “galleries” for its cars, where consumers can look but not buy. Tesla wants to run its own network of physical retail shops. Many Tesla supporters see this as an issue of government overreach, even if they don’t want to buy the cars themselves. Utech did give a slight nod to Tesla, however. “We’re excited about the next generation of transportation choices, including the kind of electric vehicles that Tesla and others have developed,” he wrote. But it looks like this symbolic high-five is all the support Tesla can hope to get from the White House.