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How Tesla electric cars won over N.C. lawmakers

WASHINGTON Tesla Motors was in trouble in North Carolina. Prohibited from opening showrooms there, it was on the way to being unable to sell cars at all when the state Senate voted unanimously to block online auto sales.

Then Tesla turned out a lobbying weapon that, in the home state of stock-car racing’s hall of fame, spoke louder than money: It parked a Model S at the Capitol and invited lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory to take it for a spin.

“When you accelerate it, it was the same sort of feeling I got when I test-drove a Mustang Boss back when I was probably 23 years old,” Republican House Speaker Thomas Tillis, 53, told the (Raleigh) News & Observer.

So ended the anti-Tesla legislation. Tillis’ chamber never voted on it.

Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk’s strategy of selling his $70,000-and-up electric car directly to customers through the Internet or company galleries has pitted him in at least seven states against franchised dealers who view Tesla’s marketing and sales models as threats to their existence.

Tesla delivered about 5,500 Model S in the third quarter, more than twice as many as it did in all of last year. It said it plans to deliver “slightly under 6,000” this quarter with Musk saying demand exceeds supply. Its sales depend on access to customers, which it reaches through showrooms modeled on those of tech companies.

The fight with dealers isn’t the company’s sole challenge. Tesla also faces a threat in Washington, where its Model S is under U.S. investigation after three battery fires, and three workers were injured Nov. 13 at its only assembly plant in an industrial accident.

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