When the state of Texas blocks Ford Motor Co. from selling used cars to Texans, who is the state protecting? Texans?
And that's a challenge facing the car dealers on whose behalf the state is acting. Car dealers risk becoming known as anti-consumer in their opposition to some kinds of Internet sales.
Ford has been selling fixed-price, off-lease used cars directly to consumers in Houston. Because Ford actually delivers the car through a dealer and pays the dealer a commission, Ford argues that it is not defying the state's ban against direct factory sales to the consumer.
But a car dealership is more than a factory drop-off point. This is clearly a factory sale. But is it wrong?
Under Texas' restrictive franchise law, it is, so the state has stopped it. This is where the car dealers risk winning a legal battle but losing a war with the consumer.
Consumers may wonder why they can't buy a used car via the Web site of the finance company that owns it. If the answer is that state government is bowing to the money of car dealers, consumers won't be happy. And the image of car dealers will take another blow.
Today, Ford and General Motors have made clear their intention to sell cars directly to consumers. The Internet makes that easy.
The Internet can be a win-win-win for automakers, dealers and consumers. It takes cost out of the system and efficiently matches buyers and sellers. Ford should work closely with dealers in its experiments with the Internet. But as a political group, dealers should think twice before trying to ban uses of this powerful new medium, the Internet, that empowers consumers. Consumers may not like that.