OKLAHOMA CITY — Even if Tesla starts manufacturing cars in Oklahoma, existing state law bars the automobile company from selling its vehicles directly to consumers.
Fewer than a dozen states, including Oklahoma, continue to ban the direct sale of new cars by automakers. Direct sales allow consumers to bypass the traditional dealership model.
Tulsa and Austin are rumored to be the two finalists for a new electric vehicle production plant that could manufacture Tesla’s latest models. Oklahoma leaders are reportedly wooing the company’s CEO Elon Musk in a bid to attract the factory, which could bring new, good-paying jobs into the state.
“Gov. (Kevin) Stitt believes Oklahoma provides a perfect opportunity because of its incredible manufacturing sites, significant investment in public infrastructure projects, economic development incentives and a community that is excited to embrace Tesla and build on its history as an energy center for the world,” said Charlie Hannema, a Stitt spokesman, on Tuesday.
Stitt is confident that any issues with vehicle sales can be worked out in a collective effort with lawmakers, Secretary of Commerce Sean Kouplen and Oklahoma’s existing dealerships, Hannema said.
Officials with the state’s Department of Commerce declined to comment.
State Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, said he and another Edmond lawmaker proposed a bill seeking to end that sales ban in 2018. The measure didn’t even make it out of committee.
“I’d like to think we were ahead of our time,” he said. “This is what the consumer wants. We just need to make sure we’re up to date with the behaviors in the market, and we’re allowing citizens to engage in that without the government getting in the way.”
Pugh said consumers shouldn’t be barred from buying products because of an “outdated statutory environment.” Oklahoma businesses also should be able to innovate and thrive. State leaders should create a climate that creates jobs and encourages development and growth, he said.
“We don’t want to hurt existing businesses in Oklahoma, but we don’t want to not change anything so that we hurt future businesses here either,” he said. “That can be businesses here that want to grow or businesses that want to relocate to Oklahoma.”
As word has spread about Tesla’s interest in Oklahoma, Pugh said he’s considered refiling the bill next session. The lawmaker said he doesn’t want the state to be in this position again with any other company.
“(It’s) certainly an ironic twist that this is the position that we are in though,” Pugh said.
He said he hopes that lone factor doesn’t ultimately deter Tesla from coming to Oklahoma.
“We really have committed as a state to be a place where businesses want to start and relocate here,” he said. “I hope all of those things are positive factors.”
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.