In the early 19th century a group of factory workers called the “Luddites” argued vehemently against the advancements of the Industrial Revolution. Luddites would even go so far as to destroy the machinery of their masters, which they saw as stealing their jobs.
Since then, the term “Luddite” has come to describe anybody with an aversion to technology, and the annual Luddite Awards from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation highlights the most absurd anti-technology laws from around the world. This year four American states have the distinction of being nominated for a Luddite Award because of their opposition to Tesla’s direct sales model. For those not keeping count, those states are Michigan, Arizona, Texas, and of course New Jersey, all of which either passed or enforced legislation last year to prevent Tesla from selling its vehicles directly to customers.
This is one of those rare issues with a lot of bipartisan support, as conservatives argue against “crony capitalism” and for the free market, while liberals flock to support the poster child for electric vehicles. Similar issues, like France banning free shipping on books by Amazon, legislation against Uber, and efforts to stop the use of Airbnb in many major cities, have also received a Luddite Award nomination, though the Tesla issue is arguably the “sexiest” and most well-known.
In its nomination for the award, ITIF writes: “It is clear that these state laws are designed to protect franchise dealers at the expense [of] innovation and competition. State lawmakers should look out for the best interests of consumers and overall productivity, not protect the business model of auto dealers.” These bans have even gone so far as to prevent Tesla from holding test drives in states like Iowa, though crafty Model S owners helped the automaker around that particular ban.
The ITIF isn’t alone either in believing the Tesla sales model should be allowed to compete with regular dealerships. Members of the FTC wrote an open letter in support of Tesla Motors, and several high-profile car dealers have come out in support of direct sales. It’s also worth noting that all of these states are run by supposed Republicans who have all, at one time or another, championed the free market (though in fairness, my own hyper-liberal home of Connecticut also prevents direct Tesla sales). While the GOP is no stranger to hypocrisy, the Tesla issue is one of the few where the rank-and-file are willing to call out the leadership. It’s almost as though nobody likes the current car sales model, except the people that put it into place.
So which of these anti-Tesla states most deserves the award? If it were up to me, the Luddite Award would definitely go to New Jersey, which had been allowing sales of the Tesla Model S until Governor Chris Christie pulled the rug out from underneath the electric automaker. That means the stores Tesla had been operating in the Garden State can’t even talk pricing with would-be buyers. Christie had given every indication that Musk was welcome to do business in Jersey, but now the fight is going to the courts as Tesla sues the state for its right to sell electric cars.
It’s almost as though the status quo is afraid of electric cars. And if you ask me, they should be.