Tesla sales bill gains final approval in Georgia

Tesla Motors could continue to avoid using independent dealers and sell an unlimited number of its new electric vehicles directly to Georgia consumers under a bill given final passage Wednesday by the Senate.

House Bill 393 is now headed to Gov. Nathan Deal. If he signs it, California-based Tesla would be the first and only carmaker in recent Georgia history to be allowed to sell freely without going through independent dealers.

The 48-4 vote came after supporters defeated efforts to effectively gut the bill either by only allowing direct sales for three years before permission would be revoked; or by expanding it so that other carmakers might also sell directly to consumers.

Critics called HB 393 a "special interest" bill that "created a carve-out for a single company" instead of leveling the market for everyone, said state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton.

The bill as passed still limits Tesla to only five locations statewide. The company has already opened three locations in metro Atlanta.

“This is not special treatment for just one company,” said Tesla’s Jim Chen, who was at the Capitol for the vote. “This is an effort to open up Georgia markets for consumers. This is about allowing Georgia consumers to choose how they want to buy a Tesla while still not upending the investment that local dealers have made in their community and to their businesses.”

Tesla’s unusual dealer-free business model has sparked legislative fights across the nation, pitting the company against franchise car dealers protected by state laws giving them exclusive rights to sell new cars. Tesla sells its electric vehicles only online or through its own stores.

The Georgia Automobile Dealers Association fought similar legislation last year that would have let Tesla sell more cars locally. GADA also has sued to force the state to halt Tesla sales, which it contends violate state law.

Despite those battles, the bill represents a compromise between the dealers association and Tesla — and supporters hope it ends the legal battle between the two. Tesla’s Chen made a point to thank GADA President Bill Morie for his help during negotiations on the bill, saying “it wasn’t an easy deal but we got a deal.”