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Tesla in Texas: Wednesday’s show (March 11, 2015)

Elon Musk’s auto company Tesla Motors sells electric cars directly to the public through self-owned stores, not dealers. It’s a shift in approach for the auto industry, which has operated for a century with dealerships serving as the middle man between automakers and consumers. But Tesla can’t open stores in Texas, or four other U.S. […]


Elon Musk’s auto company Tesla Motors sells electric cars directly to the public through self-owned stores, not dealers. It’s a shift in approach for the auto industry, which has operated for a century with dealerships serving as the middle man between automakers and consumers. But Tesla can’t open stores in Texas, or four other U.S. states, which ban such direct sales by automakers.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez of Austin wants to change that. He’s proposed a bill that calls for up to a dozen designated Tesla stores to be allowed across Texas.

Proponents say allowing Tesla stores to open here would promote a free market and give consumers more choices. Opponents argue the business model amounts to a monopoly, and that the Texas franchised dealer system protects consumers and prevents monopolies through competition on motor vehicle sales and service.

On this edition of Houston Matters, we discuss Tesla’s business model and how it could potentially affect dealerships in Texas if Tesla stores were allowed here. We talk with Rep. Rodriguez about his bill and why he wants Tesla-owned stores to operate in Texas. Then we hear from Carroll Smith, President of Monument Chevrolet in Pasadena, who serves on the board of directors of the National Automobile Dealers Association, which opposes the proposed bill.

Then we discuss what some see as the most onerous part of the traditional dealership model: the back-and-forth negotiations between the customer and the car salesman. Why is it we buy and sell cars this way, when we don’t typically haggle face-to-face, in the moment, on most anything else? (Even negotiations over home sales are usually through real estate agents and typically take days to work out). We discuss the dynamic between the car salesman and car shopper, with Houston native and former car salesman Greg Cassidy.

Also this hour: Since 1966, the School Breakfast Program has provided federally subsidized breakfasts to children at schools and child care centers nationwide. According to the non-profit Food Research and Action Center’s 2015 school breakfast report card, based on the most recent data from the 2013-2014 school year, 320,000 more kids ate healthy, nutritious breakfasts in U.S. schools than did in the previous academic year. The Houston Independent School District was among the top five participants in the program, out of 62 large school districts nationwide. Planning and serving breakfasts on such a wide scale and ensuring they meet nutritional guidelines can be a challenge, as we hear from Nan Cramer, HISD’s community outreach dietitian.

Plus: Texas is home to a few of the largest cities in the United States, but the state was once filled with wide-open spaces. In his new book The City in Texas: A History, David McComb examines the rise of urban culture in the state. McComb tells Houston Matters’ Edel Howlin about Houston’s transition from a rural to urban landscape.

(Image: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. Courtesy: Forbes.com)

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