Edwards meets with Elon Musk to craft deal for Tesla sales in Louisiana

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards met with Tesla CEO Elon Musk over the weekend in an effort to strike a deal to allow the U.S. electric automaker to sell its vehicles in the state.

The meeting comes a little over a month after the governor signed legislation restricting Tesla’s direct-to-consumer sales model, firming up the long-standing industry practice of requiring third-party dealerships to sell vehicles. Tesla at the time chastised the law, which was the latest setback in the Palo Alto, California-based firm’s efforts to push through favorable state-level legislation throughout the country.  

The governor sought out the private meeting with Musk, the billionaire behind SpaceX and other tech firms, while at the National Governors Association’s meeting in Rhode Island, says Deputy Chief of Staff Richard Carbo. Edwards hopes to craft a compromise that allows Tesla sales but also appeases the Louisiana Automobile Association—which ushered through the previous law earlier this summer—before the regular legislative session next spring.

“Tesla has worked with other states to implement plans that are supportive of local auto dealers,” Carbo says in an email. “The governor’s goal is to have these conversations sooner, so when the next regular session begins, there can hopefully be an agreement in place.”

What exactly a compromise would look like is unclear. Carbo says the governor hopes to meet again with Musk “very soon” to take the next steps.
When asked for comment, a Tesla spokesperson referred to the previous statement the company made after Edwards signed the Automobile Association’s law in early June, reiterating the company hopes it will win out over “special interests” and will continue to push for direct-to-consumer sales.

Tesla relies on internet sales and showrooms where customers can learn more about the electric vehicles. The company is one of the most valuable automakers in the U.S., and recently began production on its first mass-market model, the Model 3, which is priced at $35,000 before tax breaks.

Musk was “extremely supportive” of Edwards’ efforts to come to an agreement, Carbo says, and the governor will meet with others in the industry in the coming months. Tesla’s meeting with Edwards represents the latest development in Silicon Valley’s effort to lobby the Legislature for rules more favorable to nontraditional business models—an effort that did not fare well at the state capitol this year.  

Like Tesla, Uber and Lyft have lobbied state lawmakers throughout the country, but the ride-sharing companies also failed to persuade legislators here to pass rules for their industry. Local officials, particularly those in New Orleans, defeated a bill by state Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, aimed at making it easier for companies like Uber and Lyft to expand in the state. Currently those companies must work with cities and parishes to establish a patchwork of rules.

—Sam Karlin

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