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Editorial: Let Tesla market its products

New York State legislators should vote to allow Tesla Inc. to expand from five to 20 state stores. Indeed, it should never have limited the company to just five locations to sell its cars and show off its solar panels.

A bill to do that is pending in the State Legislature. Sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, a Monroe County Democrat, the bill authorizes 20 stores, with at least five to be located upstate. The bill is in committee. A companion bill in the Senate is sponsored by Sen. George A. Amedore, Jr., R-Rotterdam. It, too, is in committee.

Western New York’s legislative delegation and its voters should push hard for this legislation. The reason – beyond basic business fairness – is simple. South Buffalo’s RiverBend is home to Tesla’s solar manufacturing plant. With more stores, sales for those solar panels might get off the ground faster. Exposure can only help produce more sales and help to inject money into the region’s economy.

Albany also needs to help counter the tariff imposed by the Trump administration, supposedly to protect U.S. solar panel manufacturers. Although Tesla officials said the tariff will not have much impact on their company, it is nevertheless expected to undermine the still-developing industry by making installations more expensive. And, as this page has stated, it would have another consequence in unnecessarily bolstering the fossil fuel industry whose emissions warm the climate, leading to potentially catastrophic consequences for which taxpayers bear the burden.

Getting back to stores, or lack thereof. Tesla’s five are all in the New York City region. The bill would place stores in several upstate cities, including Buffalo.

Tesla started with direct sales to customers. Buffalo area residents can order one of its cars online without traveling to the nearest store, in Cleveland. But the company wants to reach out to customers on a one-to-one basis. Stores let customers examine the product: Kick the tires. Test drive the electric car, perhaps the more affordable Model 3 sedan (slowly rolling out on the production line). Discover that a solar-paneled rooftop – with new roofing tiles that from the ground look like a conventional roof – could charge that electric car.

But Tesla is facing an outdated, outmoded franchise law that limits competition. In that, it is not unlike the laws that ban wine sales in supermarkets, shielding liquor stores from competition.

Traditional dealerships with franchises would rather not see Tesla company stores entering their field of vision. There are already stores and galleries across the country and worldwide (330 in total and nearly 800 expected in Home Depot locations). It is in Buffalo’s interest to see more stores opening throughout the state.

Right now, the news on solar energy installations during the fourth quarter paints a somewhat depressing picture. The numbers fell to their lowest levels since the beginning of 2014, as The News’ David Robinson recently wrote.

Tesla executives anticipate solar energy installations to start increasing again later this year. That projection is based on selling the products in the company’s stores and Home Depot sites.

The company began making its solar roof at the South Park Avenue factory in December. Both Tesla and its partner, Panasonic, have more than 300 employees in the factory.

Tesla officials have said that demand for the solar roof is strong. It would be even stronger with more state stores. Tesla is asking only for a total of 20 in a state of almost 20 million people, 12 million of whom hold drivers licenses. In fact, there should be no government limit in a state that understands the value of competition and the tax revenues it can provide.

But it can start with 20.

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