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A Tesla Taxi Cab | Flicker
A Tesla Taxi Cab | Flicker

You don’t see many electric cars in Hillsdale, and thanks to Michigan pol­itics, that won’t change anytime soon.

This Sep­tember, Michigan offi­cials con­firmed the 2014 bill blocking Tesla, the electric car man­u­fac­turer, from opening company-owned deal­er­ships in Michigan. This bill, which passed through the Michigan Senate and House in a single day, sup­posedly pro­tects the car-buying public from predatory com­panies, upholds interests of the Detroit-based Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) and deal­ership owners. “We think the law today suf­fices,” said Terry Burns, exec­utive vice pres­ident of the Michigan Auto­mobile Dealers Asso­ci­ation, referring to the recently con­firmed law against company-owned deal­er­ships. “It works for the man­u­fac­turers. It works for con­sumers.”

The decision about which products are available and who’s pro­tecting con­sumers should not be up to the Big Three or the Michigan Auto­mobile Dealers Asso­ci­ation. Michigan should stop playing favorites and let Tesla compete.

While each branch of the Big Three offers a plug-in hybrid model — none of which are offering much com­pe­tition to Tesla — shying away from Tesla’s com­pe­tition makes the Big Three look sus­pi­ciously defensive. Embracing the com­pe­tition from Tesla offers tons of oppor­tu­nities to Michi­ganders. Not only does increased com­pe­tition motivate sup­pliers to improve products and attract buyers, but expanding pro­duction of electric vehicles bol­sters job and inno­vation oppor­tu­nities. The rel­ative novelty of electric cars is an oppor­tunity for cre­ativity and spe­cial­ization, not sus­picion.

Michigan’s law against Tesla doesn’t look like fatherly concern. It looks like the Big Three feel threatened and may be stuck in the tech­no­logical mud.

Electric cars are rel­a­tively new com­pared to gasoline cars, and pos­sibly less familiar. The most popular non-com­bustion car, the Toyota Prius, actually uses a hybrid of gas and battery tech­nologies. Tesla’s cars are fully electric, the kind you lit­erally plug and charge with a giant extension cord.

A car with a cord sounds alien, but Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk sets an opti­mistic tone. The point of founding Tesla, as he wrote this summer on the Tesla blog, “was, and remains, accel­er­ating the advent of sus­tainable energy, so that we can imagine far into the future.” The company aims to sell 50,000 vehicles by the end of this year, ambi­tiously shooting for 500,000 vehicles sold in 2018.

Elon’s optimism is, for once, proving well-founded. Earlier this month, Tesla shares rose 4.6 percent, resulting from a dra­matic increase in sales (70 percent) from last quarter. In addition, Tesla’s new electric sedan leads Chevrolet’s electric offering, the Volt, in sales by 5,000 vehicles — even though the Tesla costs twice as much. Interest in electric cars is picking up speed.

Why doesn’t Michigan cap­i­talize on this interest?

Existing deal­er­ships, whether fran­chised or not, are unfa­miliar not only with Tesla’s product, but with electric cars in general. Allowing Tesla to manage its own deal­er­ships encourages Detroit man­u­fac­turers as well as Tesla to do what each does best — unless Detroit becomes more aggressive in the electric car market.

Let’s assume minimal political machi­na­tions in the existing auto­motive world, and say that the Big Three are merely skep­tical about the success of electric cars. In that case, they have nothing to lose if Tesla nose­dives, and they would get to rejoice in their pre­diction if it does. On the other hand, if electric cars take off, Detroit’s existing electric models stand to benefit.

More impor­tantly, the refusal of Tesla’s deal­ership request denies Michi­ganders a viable product. If gov­ernment is truly so con­cerned that con­sumers will be ripped off while buying directly from

Tesla, their ban on Tesla is unrea­sonable; the self-interest of buyers will protect them more effec­tively than a bill.

Sim­i­larly, if Tesla’s direct business strategy back­fires, that’s Tesla’s problem. Also, as of last year, Ford sold more than 2.6 million vehicles, making it America’s best selling brand for the sixth straight year. That’s 52 times as many as Tesla cur­rently aims to sell this year. These numbers hardly compare.

Michigan’s flat refusal of Tesla’s deal­ership request plays to the interests of the Big Three and the deal­ership owners, com­pletely over­looking the people’s choice. Allowing Tesla to compete in the electric car market, bringing an increas­ingly popular and pol­ished product to con­sumers, is in the best interests of the people of Michigan. Tesla’s attempted move into estab­lished com­bustion ter­ritory signals the potential of electric cars — potential that already-existing man­u­fac­tures need to seize. Michigan leg­is­lature is sti­fling inno­vation and con­sumer choice due to political fear. Just because it works for the man­u­fac­turers does not mean it works for the con­sumers.

Ms. Houghton is a sophomore studying English and math­e­matics.