Today, West Virginia Governor Ray Tomblin signed a bill into law that prevents Tesla from selling its cars in the state, joining at least five other states where Tesla is banned from direct sales. And oddly enough, the law was spearheaded by Senate President and Lieutenant Governor Bill Cole, who owns an auto mall. Interesting.

Senate Bill 453’s legislative finding outlines, among other things, that it’s purpose is to “avoid undue control of the independent new motor vehicle dealer by the vehicle manufacturer or distributor,” similar to other bills that have passed in Arizona, Texas, Maryland, Michigan, and Iowa.

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While West Virginia isn’t a hotbed of automotive sales, as Automotive News points out, it’s placement would’ve given Tesla “access to potential customers in bordering states Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky. West Virginia’s eastern panhandle is considered part of the Washington, D.C., suburbs.”

Tesla sent lobbyists to the state in an attempt to get the bill amended, and another bill that expanded on those amendments was introduced. Both that bill and the changes to the original were struck down by the House, passed by the Senate, and landed on the Governor’s desk today, where Tomblin signed it.

The bill explicitly states that:

A manufacturer may not, except as provided by this section, directly or indirectly:

(A) Own an interest in a dealer or dealership: Provided, That a manufacturer may own stock in a publicly held company solely for investment purposes;

(B) Operate a dealership, including, but not limited to, displaying a motor vehicle intended to facilitate the sale of new motor vehicles other than through franchised dealers, unless the display is part of an automobile trade show that more than two automobile manufacturers participate in; or

(C) Act in the capacity of a new motor vehicle dealer;

Obviously, that kills Tesla’s chances of selling in the state.

While the bill was sponsored by 16 Senators, Bill Cole was a proponent of the legislation and the exclusion of the amendments. Cole, in addition to being both the Senate President and, by nature of the office, the Lieutenant Governor, also just happens to own Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, and Subaru dealers.

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He also produces his own 30-minute web series, the Bill Cole Automall Show, complete with an audience, guests, and, here, just try to watch a few minutes:

To get an idea of his opinion on Tesla, here’s a snippet from an interview he did with Automotive News last year after saying that electric cars don’t really work in West Virginia because of “hills” and “weather:”

Funny little side story, though: Nissan makes us put public charging stations outside our dealerships. So I’ve sold a couple of Leafs, and nobody uses them. But I have a guy who bought a Tesla that pulls up to my dealership every day and plugs right in because his office is close. I’m sorry — my electricity isn’t free. But he doesn’t have any problem pulling his Tesla into my Nissan store and laughing and leaving it on charge. So even though I don’t sell many Leafs, I’m providing a Tesla owner his charging station. Oh, well, got to love being a car dealer.

The other major supporter of the bill was the West Virginia Automobile & Truck Dealers Association, of which Cole is a member.

Ruth Lemmon, the association’s president, told AN that “Tesla could better serve the consumers, the local communities and their product by becoming a true business partner to all concerned. West Virginia would welcome [Tesla] to join the ranks of dealerships and play by the same rules and requirements and laws we must do.”

“I just can’t understand why if you want to be in the auto transportation business, why you wouldn’t want to be part of a proven model,” says Lemmon.


Contact the author at damon@jalopnik.com.
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