Tesla builds 1st store on tribal land, dodges state car laws

NAMBÉ, NM (AP) — Carmaker Tesla has opened a store and repair shop on Native American land for the first time, marking a new approach to its yearslong fight to sell cars directly to consumers and cut car dealerships out of the process.

The white-walled, silver-lettered Tesla store, which opened last week, sits in Nambé Pueblo, north of Santa Fe, on tribal land that’s not subject to state laws.

The electric car company can only sell and service its vehicles freely in about a dozen states, while it faces restrictions in others. Some, like New Mexico, ban Tesla from offering sales or repairs without going through a dealership. In January, the company struck a deal with Michigan to resolve a 2016 lawsuit, a symbolic victory that allowed it to sell in the backyard of the nation’s largest carmakers.

Supporters of Tesla said the shop in New Mexico marks the first time the company has partnered with a tribe to get around state laws, though the idea has been in the works for years.

From Oklahoma to Connecticut and other states, consumers can’t buy Teslas because the company won’t partner with dealerships and hasn’t been successful in winning over the courts or lawmakers to allow its direct sales model.

“These states have lots of sovereign Native American nations in them that could be interested in Tesla,” said Brian Dear, president of the Tesla Owners Club of New Mexico. “I don’t believe at all that this will be the last.”

Supporters said dealership laws protect middle-class jobs and force dealerships to compete, lowering prices. Critics say people can get information online and direct sales would lower costs.

New Mexico, Alabama, and Louisiana have the strictest bans, barring Tesla from both operating dealerships and repair shops. That makes repairing a Tesla more expensive and more of a hassle. Owners have to get their cars serviced in neighbouring states or through travelling Tesla technicians who fix problems with what they have in a van.

Tesla owners, Tesla employees and local political leaders gather at the service bay doors during an event to celebrate a partnership between Tesla and the Nambé Pueblo. PHOTO: AP