Killing the electric car

by Editorial

The first 2012 Tesla Model S fully electric car came off the production line in February 2012. By November of that year it was named the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year. Other accolades would follow: Automobile magazine’s 2013 Car of the Year, the 2013 World Green Car of the Year and one of Time magazine’s Best 25 Inventions of 2012.

The American company, based in California, was begin by the entrepreneur Elon Musk, who sold his first tech company for almost $350 million in cash and stock in 1999, before he turned 30.

That same year he started PayPal. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Musk’s Tesla, which is publicly traded on the NASDAQ stock index, showed its first profit in the first quarter of this year, astounding for a startup that required so much capital to get off the ground.

It’s exactly the kind of company that we need in this country: innovative, sustainable and, most importantly, profitable. And the state of North Carolina — at least, according to the people elected to do the public’s business — want no’  part of it.

It’s exactly the kind of company that we need in this country: innovative, sustainable and, most importantly, profitable.

Tesla breaks the mold of the traditional car company. It’s vertically aligned, which means that Tesla owns all of its cars and the only way to buy one of the vehicles is from the company itself. That threatens traditional cardealers, who buy their cars from the big auto companies and then resell them on their lots. There is no room for them in the Tesla business plan. So because the Tesla has become so popular, the car dealers have conspired with their friends in the North Carolina Senate to brand Tesla as “unfair competition.” The result is SB 327, thick with licensing requirements and auto-trade arcana, which ultimately prohibits the Tesla business model.

Last month it passed another reading and headed for the transportation committee.

The whole thing has kind of a Tucker: A Man and His Dream vibe to it, big business and government colluding to maintain a legacy in the face of true innovation. Or maybe a more apt comparison is the 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, about the quiet shuttling of the technology late in the last century.

The Tesla — beautiful, powerful, efficient — has proven harder to suppress.

So far, 80 Teslas have been sold in North Carolina. Prospective buyers, who must wait at the end of a 6,000-person list, should have no problem shooting to South Carolina or Virginia to buy their cars. You can even buy them online… for now.

But last week a Senate budget proposal took dead aim at electric-car drivers, floating a $100 annual tax on the vehicles, and $50 a year for hybrids, citing exemption from the gas taxes as a reason.

It’s a valid point. But then, most people bought these cars to avoid our state’s disproportionately high gas tax and the roads they provide.

And it seems that, just as we should be encouraging alternate sources of energy and new business ideas, we are actively discouraging both.

In 2009, our state government voted to change the tax laws to accommodate an unprecedented tax break for an Apple data center. It was wrong then to base policy on a single corporate entity, and it’s wrong now.

But at least with the Apple deal we did get the data center.

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