AUSTIN (KXAN) — Tesla owners in Texas banded together to oppose a state Senate bill which they feared would eliminate the company’s service centers in the Lone Star State. Lawmakers amended the bill in a way that eased the concerns of Tesla owners just in time for a committee hearing Thursday.
Texas Senate Bill 1415 was left pending in committee after a hearing in the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce.
Despite the amended bill, Tesla owners from around the state still showed up to attend Thursday’s committee hearing, to give the testimony they had prepared. Several of these people parked their electric vehicles in parking spots directly outside of the Capitol, paid for by Tesla.
“It addresses all of our concerns as it relates to service,” a representative from Tesla told the Senate Committee. The company said that thousands of Tesla owners had gotten involved with contacting lawmakers regarding this bill.
SB 1415 was written to correct previous Texas wording in the law to give more people the ability to operate a vehicle dealership. Currently, manufacturers of certain types of vehicles may not also own a vehicle dealership. The bill would change the wording by allowing manufacturers to own dealerships, so long as it sells a different type of vehicle than what the company makes.
Tesla owners feared the language in the bill would stop them from accessing service centers for their cars in the state. One woman from Waco testified she already has to drive two hours to get to the nearest Tesla service station. Eliminating Tesla service stations in Texas would force owners to drive as far as Kansas City to get their cars serviced, the car owners said.
“I’d just like to say that if Texas is really open for business, I think it’s time that Tesla was allowed to fully compete in the Texas market,” another Tesla owner said.
“This time crisis is averted but I ask everyone to be vigilant,” said Houston Tesla owner Stephen Pace. He told committee members that he doesn’t expect this is the last time that wording changes within a Texas law will spark worry for Tesla owners.
Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) told the several Tesla owners who came to testify that they made an impression on the committee.
“When an individual takes the time, carve out part of your day and testify, it means a lot to the members, we appreciate what you have to say,” Nichols told the Tesla owners.
A Tesla spokesperson sent KXAN a statement Thursday which reads:
“We are encouraged by the changes made to Senate Bill 1415 at today’s meeting of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. The substitute bill preserves the status quo to allow Tesla and companies like us to continue to service our customers’ vehicles in Texas. We thank Senator Kelly Hancock for his leadership and for listening to thousands of Texans who spoke up for the Tesla service model and we look forward to continuing to serve our growing customer base in the Lone Star State”
The company says there are 21,000 of their cars in Texas.
State Senator Kelly Hancock (Richland Hills) blames Tesla Lobbyists for promoting “public confusion about the language of the bill”, calling their concerns “unfounded.”
He maintains that even the original bill would not have impacted Tesla service centers because the bill only applied to licensed franchise dealers and dealerships – not service centers. A release from his office explained that confusion over this bill was sparked by some of the wording in information that he says should have been used for reference purposes only.
A statement from Hancock’s office says he is not anti-Telsa or anti-direct auto sales. He noted that in 2015 he authored a bill to allow direct auto sales in Texas, but the bill did not become law.
Though the senator insisted that SB1415 would not impact Tesla service centers, he explained that his office worked on text revisions to ease concerns and prevent misreadings of “what can be very complex statutory references.”
They laid out a committee substitute for the bill on Thursday, clarifying the law and wording, making sure that it was specific to “franchised dealers and dealerships.”
While Stephen Pace, says he’s happy Hancock made these changes, he thinks there’s room for improvement in the current Texas law for how service centers can work.
“I cannot legally call the service center that’s six miles away from my house in Houston, I have to call a toll-free number in another state, someone answers, ‘Texas service’ they take my name, they take my details create a ticket, that gets routed to my local service center, and at that point they can call me,” Pace said. “I just find that’s silly.”
The law Pace is talking to is part of a history of Texas legislatures that are not friendly to Tesla. Advocates who have tried to pass laws to allow for the direct sale of Tesla’s in Texas have come up unsuccessful against dealership lobbyists in the state.
“For example, we have what we call galleries in Texas, we don’t have stores because the word store implies you can buy something there, and in Texas you can’t, so if you go in there and say, ‘hey how much is this car?’ they can’t tell you,” Pace explained. “They’d say, ‘I’d love to tell you that, just go online, you can get it from our website.'”
Pace remains hopeful that future advocacy efforts might be able to change that.
“Every state has different rules,Texas is not the worst, but it is among the worst.”