U.S. Consumer’s Right To Choose Type Of Automobile Purchases 

The gas-operated automobile was initially prototyped roughly in the 1800s in Europe. Around the same time, various scientists invented a version of the electric automobile. The electric engine originally had some success in the U.S. automobile market. Companies such as Samuel’s Electric Carriage and Wagon Company blossomed in 1897, operating 62 electric hansom cabs in their prime.

However, a number of factors led to the decline of the electric automobile and the predominance of the gas-operated automobile. The technological advancements to meet the same range as a gas-operated vehicle were not created (currently- Tesla offers vehicle(s) with the same range as gas-operated vehicles). In the early 1900s, electric engines became less popular because of their limited range, the vast development of U.S. roads, the built-in infrastructure to provide Americans with “low” cost gasoline, and most importantly, Henry Ford’s introduction of a low-cost vehicle, The Model T.

Smaller manufacturers were wiped out, and a high production business model required significant overhead to enter and stay viable in the market. Model T technology remained unchanged long after it became outdated and sparked a reliance on petroleum used to make gasoline. In the 1920s and 1930s, manufacturers focused their efforts on changes in styling implemented on an annual basis. Manufacturers hoped this would motivate automobile owners to “trade-in” their vehicles sooner than mandated by the car’s condition.

During World War II, U.S. manufacturers produced both “essential military items,” military vehicles, and primarily stopped production of civilian automobiles from 1942 to 1945 (until the end of the war). Following the end of the war and positioned with a newfound focus on “styling,” manufacturers produced larger, more expensive, higher gasoline consuming automobiles.

Manufacturer focus on styling may have correlated with a deterioration in automobile quality, leading to a number of federal standards imposed that regulated emissions and safety. However, the increase in gasoline prices in the 1970s also spurred the U.S. market with German and Japanese vehicles that were more fuel-efficient.

The automobile afforded Americans with autonomy and convenience. Becoming a cemented component of American culture and important in the everyday lives of Americans. More recently, there has been an interest in methods of decreasing the use of gasoline operated automobiles. Gasoline requires the use of crude oil that is not sustained by U.S. crude oil sources alone. Beyond any political implications, retrieving crude oil is often detrimental to the environment regardless of where it is sourced. Gas operated vehicles also emit greenhouse gases, and automobile owners are forced to interact with the substance to some degree when filling up their gas.

Freedom and the Right to Choose Type of Automobile Purchases

Politics aside, the benefits implied in a free capitalistic market, is that the consumer defines demand and has a right to choose what kind of automobile they would like to purchase. 

Currently, disruptive gains in technology, such as advancements within electric automobiles are in part prohibited from properly entering the market and reaching American consumers due to state franchise laws. Americans currently do not purchase their automobiles directly from manufacturers, which has not always been the case. Instead, manufacturers utilize a dealership network that requires the consumer to purchase from a dealer who has a contractual relationship with the manufacturer.

The state franchise laws within manufacturer dealerships networks, “protect” dealers within a certain number of miles of their place of business – from any other dealers from opening up shop. This was intended to protect the dealer’s potential business and not the consumer’s right to the best price and service. 

The advent of the internet has also amplified the issue for two reasons: 1) consumers can now research the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, revealing the dealership’s added overhead cost, and 2) consumers would be better serviced if they could purchase a new vehicle online. Online purchases would abolish many of the issues faced by the American consumer when interacting with a manufacturer’s dealer. Americans with disabilities would have an additional way of accessing and purchasing an automobile. Online sales would abolish many forms of potential prejudice faced by consumers from dealers and also protect the integrity of the price without in-person “painful negotiation.” Consumers would not be limited to the inventory of a dealership or have to account for the dealership’s overhead in pricing. Manufacturers may be motivated to maintain a traditional dealership system to ensure their product is sold during a bad economy – since dealerships must purchase inventory to showcase the product, they are selling (whether or not they have sales).

More recently, Michigan found a creative solution that enabled pioneers like Tesla to conduct business within centers that showcase their product but do not function as a traditional dealership. There are many potential and creative solutions to this issue. What is important is that Americans are offered the freedom to access and choose the type of automobile they personally operate. The current state franchise laws (with the exception of Michigan) cut out newcomers to the manufacturing industry and trap the American consumer within the dealership system- resulting in a higher price paid by American consumers due to dealership overhead costs and limits accessibility to dealer inventory. 

To change state franchise laws and reinstate Americans’ freedom and right to choose their type of automobile, contact your state legislatures. 

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