Test driving with defiance

Eric Jackson and his wife, Loretta, pose with their new Tesla after picking it up at a Tesla service center and showroom in Eden Prairie, Minn., on April 10, 2014.

ST. JOSEPH - Eric Jackson struggles to contain his enthusiasm for the Tesla electric car.

"It's a game changer for the automotive industry and the energy industry. It's one of the greatest inventions of the 21st century," the Hastings, Minn., resident said in a phone interview.

That enthusiasm, combined with righteous ire, has inspired him and a clutch of fellow Tesla owners to organize a rally and protest on the brand's behalf in St. Joseph Township. He said he expects 20 to 50 Tesla owners from across the Midwest to gather Saturday and Sunday at the recharging station behind Panera Bread at I-94 and Niles Road.

He said a similar rally last year in Des Moines, Iowa, drew 2,000 people curious about the car created by noted inventor Elon Musk.

The ire is aimed at the Michigan Legislature, which passed a law last fall that restricts Tesla's sales methods.

California-based Tesla likes to sells cars in its own stores, often in upscale malls on the East and West coasts.

However, Gov. Rick Snyder in October signed a bill that requires cars be sold through franchised dealerships. General Motors and dealership lobbies backed the law.

The law violates principles of free enterprise and competition, Jackson said.

"This is not America. ... What's wrong with this picture?" he said. "It's a way to cripple an American-made automobile."

Michigan residents can buy Teslas online, Jackson said, but few people want to buy cars they can't test drive.

Michigan is among several states that restrict factory-direct car sales. Jackson said Michigan's laws may be the toughest because the auto industry is such a large force in its politics.

Musk launched Tesla in 2003 as a high-performance electric car. The cars are not cheap. Jackson said a new Tesla can cost from $80,000 to $140,000, depending on options. Used models can cost $60,000.

Jackson said the cars are very reliable and have far fewer moving parts than what are found on regular automobiles. He said reliability and effiency reduce the need for service departments, which is another income source for dealerships.

Jackson said the event is not sanctioned or sponsored by Tesla. He said the Tesla owners are acting as a club.

Contact: jdalgleish@TheHP.com, 932-0356, Twitter @HPDalgleish