The Missouri Auto Dealer Association (MADA) has been exercising its political muscle for at least a couple years to protect its antiquated state-supported cartel over new car sales. It seems they have finally succeeded in court where their lobbying efforts have failed. In an opinion last week by Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green, the court ruled that Missouri state statutes governing automobile distribution prohibit Tesla from operating its own retail stores in the state.
The case, which the MADA filed against the Missouri Department of Revenue, contested the State’s issuance of two franchise dealer licenses to Tesla for Tesla to open its own “franchise” retail stores. Basically, Missouri statutes have implemented a circular argument that prohibits auto manufacturers from owning new vehicle dealerships. § 301.550.3 RSMo specifically limits new car dealers to being franchises, statutorily side-stepping the possibility of a non-franchise new car dealer. The court essentially argued (perhaps rightly) that Tesla’s self-dealing of the franchise to itself was merely a rhetorical ploy to circumvent this failure of the statutes to allow for non-franchise dealers. However, even if that side-step were permissible, § 407.826.1 RSMo specifically prohibits auto industry franchisors from “owning or operating a new motor vehicle dealership in this state.”
Judge Green’s opinion basically means the laws of the state of Missouri preclude the possibility of any auto manufacturer selling its cars in Missouri directly to consumers. While Tesla can continue to operate its two service centers in the state, it cannot make car sales there. Instead, the company must continue to sell to Missourians over the internet with a point-of-sale in another state. (So much for more sales jobs.)
I and others have written previously (here, here, and here) why bans on Tesla’s direct-to-consumer sales model are bad for consumers and for society in general. This most recent ruling in Missouri just highlights how fundamentally flawed the regulation of commerce can be. Missouri’s laws, to the extent they ever made sense, are rooted in an antiquated industry and technological setting. Advancements in information technology alone have undercut many, if not all, of the economic justifications for an auto manufacturer to use a franchised distribution system. Laws that were written to protect franchisees in a 1950s-era distribution system do nothing now but raise consumers’ costs and thwart technological and organizational innovation that make everyone better off. Everyone, that is, except the franchised auto dealer cartel that sees all too clearly how little value it now adds in the sale and distribution of new cars.
Hopefully Missouri’s legislature will have the gumption to fix the flaws in its statutes that limit all new car retailers to “franchises” and instead let auto manufacturers (or any other manufacturer) choose the model they find best for themselves and their customers.
About a year ago I posted a couple of pieces (here and here) related to auto dealers’ attempts in various states to shut down Tesla’s direct-to-consumer distribution system. Dan Crane (Michigan Law) has a recent paper on the issue available at SSRN. Below is the abstract:
Tesla Motors is fighting the car dealers’ lobby, aided and abetted by the legacy Detroit manufacturers, on a state by state basis for the right to distribute its innovative electrical automobiles directly to consumers. The Tesla wars showcase the important relationship between product innovation and innovation in distribution methods. Incumbent technologies may block competition by new technologies by creating legal barriers to innovative distribution methods necessary to secure market acceptance of the new technologies. While judicial review of such special interest capture is generally weak in the post-Lochner era, the Tesla wars are creating new alliances in the political struggle against crony capitalism that could contribute to a significant re-telling of the conventional public choice story.
Roger Blair and Francine Lafontaine have a new paper out on “Formula Pricing and Profit Sharing in Inter-Firm Contracts” (here). They explore the use of profit-sharing contracts for vertical relationships, particularly the case of successive monopoly or the double-marginalization problem. Naturally, their focus is on franchise relations. The abstract follows:
Ronald Coase viewed transaction cost minimization as a central goal of contracting and organizational decisions. We discuss how a solution to the traditional successive monopoly problem that has not been discussed in the literature can economize on such costs. Specifically, we show that when we allow for profit sharing between upstream and downstream firms, a simple formula pricing contract can be used to generate the vertically integrated level of profits. This simple contract, empirically, would take the form of the standard linear wholesale price contracts that are ubiquitous in vertical contexts, even those where we might expect successive monopoly to be an issue. We discuss the advantages of the proposed contract from a transaction cost perspective. We also discuss some of its limitations, in particular the likelihood of misrepresentation of costs, and ways in which such misrepresentation might be addressed in the contract.
That’s the title of a new working paper with one of my former students, Michelle (Mullins) Santiago. You can access the full paper here. The abstract follows:
The wine industry in the United States has grown tremendously over the past few decades, from fewer than 1,000 wineries in 1980 to upwards of 7,700 today. The growth has occurred over a period that has seen substantial changes in the structure of the wine industry, the modes of distribution available to wineries, and the regulations governing them, perhaps most notably the advent of direct-to-consumer shipping of wine across state boundaries. Most economic research, however, has focused on supply relations between wineries and wine grape growers rather than between wineries and their downstream markets. In this paper we examine wineries’ contracting behavior with downstream distributors and the effects of industry structure, winery organizational structure, and state laws regarding direct shipment and distribution franchise laws.
Jimmy John’s, the national sub-sandwich company known for being “freaky good, freaky fast,” has been in the news for being rather freaky about having employees sign non-compete clauses as part of their standard labor agreements.
Non-compete clauses are not uncommon for senior executives, technology professionals, or professionals whose business is built on client relationships, like lawyers or sales representatives. And although an article in the New York Times this summer highlights how non-compete clauses are increasingly appearing in unexpected places, one certainly wouldn’t expect such an agreement as a condition of employment at a sandwich shop–unless maybe it was to protect the time-warp technology for their freak fast delivery.
There’s just one problem with the hype in the media around this issue: most of it is ignoring some important facts that call into question just how big a deal this is, except as a media stunt for some disgruntled employees. For example: Continue reading The Economics of Jimmy John’s “Freaky” Non-compete Clause