California dealers expanded a complaint against Tesla Inc. over six new referral programs the automaker is offering customers.
The California New Car Dealers Association sent a letter of complaint to the state's Department of Motor Vehicles citing Tesla's six latest referral programs and claiming they violate state law. The group initially filed a complaint in September 2013 and August 2015, and the DMV sent a warning letter to the automaker in September 2015.
The CNCDA claims Tesla's various referral programs engage in "bird-dogging" practices, enticing owners with incentives to act as unlicensed sales people. California law states that it is illegal for a company to offer rebates, discounts or commissions to anyone without a sales license on the condition that they sell, or aid in the selling, of that company's goods.
"Tesla continues to widely publicize its now years-long strategy to sell cars using current customers as the middlemen," Brian Maas, president of the CNCDA, said in the complaint.
Tesla later responded to the complaint with this statement:
"This is just another example of car dealers trying to interfere with us and our customers. The regulations prohibit rogue car salespeople. Does anyone seriously think our customers are salespeople that the public needs to be protected from?"
The program at issue in 2015 offered $1,000 for each new buyer referred by an owner, and new buyers would receive $1,000 off the price of a vehicle. Tesla received similar complaints about the same program in Virginia, and eventually modified it to offer the full $2,000 to the buyer.
The most recent complaint lists six programs introduced this year, and claims the short duration of each offer is intended to avoid enforcement against illegal sales practices.
One such program is referred to in the letter as the "Secret" referral program, which allows owners to "unlock" new levels of incentives with a certain number of referrals. Rewards include free supercharging, a $1,000 discount on a Model S or Model X and ability to purchase the next-generation Roadster -- which has yet to be introduced -- at a 10 percent discount.
A spokesperson for the California DMV said late Friday the agency has received the complaint and is reviewing it.