Regular readers of my work probably consider me something of a Tesla skeptic, and the record doesn’t exactly dispute the charge. But as I’ve maintained throughout my criticisms of other automakers, criticism is hardly a sign of disrespect or antagonism. In fact, as a lifelong resident of the West Coast of the USA, Tesla represents the closest thing I have to a hometown team in the auto industry. Perhaps I’m out of touch with the self-esteem-centric values of our times, but I firmly believe that critical analysis is the most constructive contribution the media can make to the health of a company or industry. Certainly the history of the US auto industry confirms the fact that companies can drift dangerously and self-destructively out of touch with reality in the absence of regular gut checks from an independent media.
All that said, Tesla’s battle against the new car dealer franchise monopoly is one instance where I can’t help but become a cheerleader. It’s nothing less than shocking to me that the US, a country widely perceived as being relatively free-market oriented, suffers under a uniquely uncompetitive monopoly on new car sales and service. In my latest Bloomberg View column I attempt to explain why Tesla’s assault on the new car dealer lobby is good for the entire car business, and why it might actually succeed. Tesla may be picking a fight whose benefits to its bottom line don’t outweigh the costs, but the broad benefits of breaking the un-American dealer system are enough to make me believe Tesla really is building a better future. Hopefully the other forces that have been battering against the dealer monopoly walls for years (with far less fanfare) will join with Tesla to force the US auto retail environment into the modern world.