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Tensions in Sustainable Transportation: Tesla Motors Not Allowed in Virginia

Posted in Science & Math, Technology - Vehicles, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 14, 2013 by Jessica Bowen

I was a bit surprised and irritated when I found out that Tesla motors, an upcoming electric car company, wasn’t allowed to have a dealership in Virginia. They still have a gallery in Tysons Corner, VA, but can’t directly sell cars from the location. Fortunately, there are other dealerships in the relatively close locations of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Raleigh, North Carolina. However, this serves as an example of how our current system works in a way that perpetuates itself, and makes it difficult to integrate new ways of doing things.  It’s another illustration of the way that our system is not yet set up to really handle sustainability.

Tesla Model S

Tesla is a relatively new manufacturer, and they sell their cars directly to consumers, with no middle-people doing the transactions.  In Virginia, as in some other states, laws are in place that make manufacturers work through a franchised dealership to sell their cars to the public. There are loopholes, in case there are no dealerships available (as in the case of Tesla.) Despite this, the Virginia state Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner, Richard D. Holcomb, ruled that there is no evidence that there is no dealership Tesla can sell through. And so they can’t sell cars in Virginia at all.

Perhaps, though, this has more to do with tax dollars than dealerships. As in the case of other states considering adopting legislation to tax electric cars more than fossil-fuel cars, keeping a Tesla dealership out of Virginia could be a way of trying to keep some number of electric cars out of the state, thereby guaranteeing more tax revenue through gas purchases by the public.

A quick Google search even revealed to me a document on Virginia’s website by Richard Holcomb, concluding that the “DMV is facing a nearly $20 million decline in revenue starting July 2013.”

(Image Copyright University of Maryland)

With this in mind, if the State does generate a good bit of money from gas sales, losing that could be intimidating to them. In my mind, that might make a state want to increase the gas tax, to maintain revenue as the (polluting) fuel becomes less available and push for the public to purchase electric vehicles or use other means of transportation. At the moment, though, it seems that we have built a system around gasoline-powered vehicles. And we do still need to fund roads, of course.

The ideology behind the free market’s supposed ability to fix social and environmental problems is a big consideration, as it has become very ingrained in our thinking and structure.

In a lighter sense, Tesla’s being denied access to public car sales in Virginia could be seen as just one hiccup in a much wider change that is happening. Despite this one dealership denial, Teslas can still be seen driving around the DC area, proving that they’re still somehow available to that public. And so, maybe the car maker’s dealership denial can be seen as both an illustration of the way our current system works to keep change out, but also an illustration of how change will find a way.

[article written by SCOD Member Jessica Bowen]

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