Dislike dealer franchise laws? There's a White House sign-up sheet

Just a day after Monday's Automotive News report that Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk will consider federal options in his fight with dealers over his factory-store sales model, a petition popped up on a White House Web site urging the Obama administration to overturn state franchise laws.

Musk tweeted a link to the petition on Wednesday, asking supporters to "please vote here." As of Friday afternoon, the petition had nearly 4,000 signatures, with a goal of 100,000 by May 16. A tutorial on the White House petition site says 25,000 signatures is the threshold for administration officials to take a look at a request.

The petition was created by someone identified on the Web site as K.L. of Gilbert, Ariz.

It argues that franchise laws "stifle the auto industry, keep prices of new vehicles up and reduce consumer choice. We need the federal government to step in and protect the consumer's choice to a free market trade."

A Tesla official said the company had no role in launching the petition and isn't sure who started it.

Musk has been battling with dealers in Texas and several other places over his mall-based retail network. Dealers say Tesla's approach violates franchise and consumer laws in several states.

The National Automobile Dealers Association has vowed to vigorously defend the franchise system against any attempt by Musk to go to Congress or the federal courts. I don't imagine the petition will sit well with the folks at NADA either.

A NADA spokesman said Tesla does not deserve special treatment and that the franchise system promotes competition.

"The franchise system is good for consumers, good for communities and good for the economy," spokesman David Hyatt wrote in an e-mail. "Manufacturers that sell their vehicles directly to consumers -- and don't let anyone else sell that vehicle -- eliminate competitive pricing."

You can reach Amy Wilson at awilson@crain.com -- Follow Amy on Twitter: @theamywilson

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