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Proposal could pull plug on Tesla growth in Ohio

CINCINNATI (Joe Webb) -- The definition of a car dealership has pitted traditional Ohio dealers against an electric car company with two "stores" in the state. 

Tesla Motors has storefront operations in Columbus and at the Kenwood Towne Center in suburban Cincinnati and wants to open more.  But they've hit a hurdle.

"Under the current law there are no hurdles but we have encountered resistance from the dealer's association here in Ohio who would like to change the law and restrict our ability to do business and to grow," Tesla Motors Vice President of Business Development Diarmuid O'Connell said at the Kenwood location Monday morning. 

"They are trying to change the rules.  Change the law."

O'Connell is referring to Senate Bill 260 that's pending in the Ohio General Assembly.  The bill, backed by the Greater Cincinnati Auto Dealers association, specifically targets Tesla's direct sales approach.  Despite having storefront locations, buyers order Tesla's directly from the manufacturer.  SB 260 prohibits direct sales and requires dealers to have showrooms and service departments. 

"We're not anti-Tesla," GCADA Executive Vice President Charlie Howard told Local 12. "We're car people.  We like cars."

Howard says the issue isn't Tesla, it's consumer protection.

"The best competition for the consumer is the dealer network.  You're going to decide what kind of car you want and then you're going to call around to competing dealers and it'll be between competing dealers that give you the best price.  Whereas if you have a manufacturer that sells the vehicle, I suspect the price is going to be the same no matter which location you call for a price."

O'Connell says that's true.  Every comparably equipped Tesla is the same price.  There is no haggling.  He says that is consumer protection.

Regardless of what happens with SB 260, the Kenwood and Columbus Tesla stores will stay open.  They are licensed under the current law.

"They're trying to change the rules," O'Connell argued. "They're trying to change the law. Those are the rules and we simply want to maintain the status quo. We want to grow organically and serve a great market here in Ohio."

O'Connell says Tesla would eventually like to have stores in Cleveland, Akron, Toledo and Dayton.

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