The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Tesla Motors

One of my tasks as a fourth grade teacher is to teach my students how to write persuasive essays. I also teach them how to write responses to questions they are given. It is with this in mind that I have decided to use this platform to express my disappointment at the official response to a petition that was submitted to the White House via the We The People site.

First, some background: The petition was in regards to what many, including myself, consider to be unfair automobile industry regulations that limit opportunities for new car manufacturers to reach a wide consumer base and compete with the more established manufacturers, such as Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai, etc. More specifically, the petition was written in regards to making it easier for consumers to purchase the revolutionary all-electric vehicles produced by Tesla Motors. Those who know me well know that I am a big fan of the name for whom this company is named, Nikola Tesla. I am also a big fan of the Tesla Motors company and their CEO, Elon Musk. I am also a big fan of automobiles that run on alternative fuel sources such as electric batteries which have zero emissions and do not contribute directly to air pollution. Since I was in fourth grade, I have had an interest in renewable energy resources and have advocated for an expansion of them. (That being said, after a lengthy period of time of not having a car at all, my wife and I did recently purchase a traditional gasoline-powered car, but we try to limit our use in order to limit our impact on the environment.)

What does all this have to do with this petition then? Well, right now, most, if not all, states require automobile manufacturers to sell their vehicles through a licensed car dealership. This means that I cannot just go to the car maker and directly purchase the car. Car dealers are licensed by car manufacturers to sell specific vehicles, which is why you won’t find a Ford dealer who also sells Chevrolet vehicles. Since Tesla Motors is a small, independent car manufacturer, the only way to sell their cars to most consumers would be to have an established dealership. But this presents a problem, since you aren’t going to find a dealer who is going to exclusively sell just Tesla automobiles, no matter how amazing you may think they are.

So someone created a petition using We The People. It was simple and to the point:

States should not be allowed to prevent Tesla Motors from selling cars directly to customers. The state legislators are trying to unfairly protect automobile dealers in their states from competition. Tesla is providing competition, which is good for consumers.

138,468 people signed this petition (including me). The official policy with the White House is that there will for a formal response from a member of the Executive Branch (which includes hundreds of people, not just the President, Vice President, and Cabinet members) if a petition receives a minimum of 100,000 signatures within 30 days. The petition met this threshold but the response did not come until just today. I read the response and was incredibly disappointed by the fact that the author, Dan Utech, who serves as the Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, did not actually respond to the point of the petition itself. I have linked the response above, but here is part of the response:

Thanks for your We the People petition. We’re excited about the next generation of transportation choices, including the kind of electric vehicles that Tesla and others have developed. These companies are taking steps to help spur innovation in the promising area of advanced batteries and electric automobiles. Vehicle electrification and other advanced technologies are vital components of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, and his commitment to addressing climate change and reducing carbon pollution, in addition to reducing our dependence on oil.

But as you know, laws regulating auto sales are issues that have traditionally sat with lawmakers at the state level.

We believe in the goal of improving consumer choice for American families, including more vehicles that provide savings at the pump for consumers. However, we understand that pre-empting current state laws on direct-to-consumer auto sales would require an act of Congress.

We are already making significant progress in promoting vehicle efficiency: new vehicle fuel economy has increased by 12% since 2008 and consumers now can choose from five times more car models with a combined city/highway fuel economy of 30 mpg or more, compared to just five years ago. In December 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that model year 2012 vehicles achieved an all-time high fuel economy, after increasing seven of the last eight years.

Mr. Utech begins his response in a way that I, as a fourth grade teacher, heartily support. He acknowledges the question and shares relevant information about Tesla Motors and how the White House supports the innovations that Mr. Musk and others have brought about. Then he goes off track, and this is where I am disappointed in this response. He states that laws have traditionally left the regulation of automobile sales up to individual states. This is what the petition points out and asks to be changed at a federal level. After talking about the value of “improving consumer choice” he states that “pre-empting current state laws on direct-to-consumer auto sales would require an act of Congress.” Again, that is the point of the petition. There is no reason to submit a petition to leaders at the federal level of government if you don’t want the leaders at the federal level of government to act on the petition. Instead of explaining why the Obama Administration will not propose legislation or stating that such legislation will be proposed, Mr. Utech goes on to describe all the changes in regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory boards to reduce carbon emissions in gasoline-powered automobiles.

Mr. Utech, you did not answer the question. You did restate the question, but you did not answer, you did not explain your answer, and you did not provide details that support your answer. This was not an acceptable response to the petition at hand. This was akin to the time a student was asked to write about whether or not she believed she could handle the responsibility of owning a dog and instead wrote a three-page story about a time someone brought a puppy to summer camp. I am sorely disappointed in this response, not because the answer was no, but because the answer was non-existent. I like to use authentic writing as exemplars for my students to follow. I was hoping to use this response because my students in the coming year will be learning about electricity and the innovations and inventions of scientists like Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, and, yes, Nikola Tesla. I am sad that this response can only serve as an example of what not to do.

And while I realise that my blog is small and insignificant, with only 20-30 visitors on a typical day, I am going to ask that, on the off-chance you see this, Mr. Utech, you consider reframing your response to answer the petition, rather than using it as a platform to talk about reforms that, while worthy of praise, have nothing to do with the question asked of you.

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One response

  1. Norman Olson

    Thank you for writing this. I received the email from Mr. Urech today and was interested in how the White House would respond to the petition. It has been over a year, so I assumed they had at least had time to think about their reply. I too was incredibly disappointed. It should have been obvious to anyone that the petition was signed mostly by EV enthusiast, but Mr. Utech choose to hype the administration’s plans to help auto companies continue to sell internal combustion cars. All he had to do was say, “we here at the White House think that Electric Cars are neat. We would like all Americans to have an opportunity to buy one. We think that the Congress should act to make EV’s easier to buy.” Instead, he came off as defending the existing system, and the administrations role in that system. It was kind of sad. So, thank you for writing this blog. I searched on ‘Response to We the People Petition on Tesla Motors’, which is the title of the email I received from the White House, and your blog was on the first page of results. I hope you get many more visitors. Good luck.

    July 11, 2014 at 10:09 pm

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