Tesla Bigot: IADA’s Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson, president of the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association (IADA), recently forced the shutdown of a planned day of Model S test drives being offered by Tesla Motors in Des Moines. I’ve written before about Tesla and how auto dealerships—and their political allies—oppose the all-electric car manufacturer’s direct-to-consumer sales model.

But what car dealers, dealership trade groups, and self-serving Luddites like Anderson really oppose isn’t a particular sales model or how Tesla works with its customers. Rather, they fear fair competition. Compared to Tesla’s next-gen vehicles, their products suck. And they know it.

IADA Bruce Anderson - RESIZEAs reported in the Des Moines Register on September 25, “The Iowa Department of Transportation asked Tesla to stop its West Des Moines test drives after being alerted to the event by the [IADA].” One local resident, who had scheduled a test drive on the final day that was cancelled, lamented, “I hope they get [the laws] changed, because it’s just ridiculous.” Of course, are any of us really surprised that Iowa’s car dealers—in the form of Anderson—went crying to mommy because of a little competition?

And the logic behind the shutdown? In Iowa, “state law requires auto dealers to be licensed, and by offering test drives, Tesla was acting as a dealer,” wrote the Register. And who drew this conclusion? Paul Steier, Director of the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Investigation and Identity Protection. More proof of the lack of intelligence and spirit of fair play in both government and old boy networks like car dealer associations.

To add insult to injury, Iowa lawmakers have little interest in changing the archaic laws currently prohibiting Tesla from conducting something as simple as a test drive of one of its efficient, zero emission cars. The blatant kowtowing of Iowa politicians to big business flies in the face of the desires of Iowa consumers.

Iowa Senator Matt McCoy, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is, ironically, a fan of Tesla’s cars, having test driven a Model S (in another state, natch) and publicly stated that he plans to purchase the less-expensive Model 3 after its release in 2017. However, McCoy is about as clueless and lacking in foresight as Anderson. “I have mixed feelings about it because I really like the car and I really like what the car stands for,” he said. “But in Iowa, we tend to respect our system and the way it was set up, and I don’t see any appetite to change that.”

Apparently McCoy’s “mixed feelings” are caused by his affinity for the Model S paired with his desire for corporate campaign contributions. By the Senator’s logic, his state would never have evolved beyond horse and buggy, because the Iowa Buggy Dealers Association would have called on its political friends and bureaucratic allies to block sales of the Model T—rationalized by antiquated laws passed before automobiles even came into existence.

Even West Des Moines State Rep. Peter Cownie, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, is in on the game. “You can’t have two sets of rules. That would create an unfair playing field for the small business owners and small car dealers,” he said. By Cownie’s logic, don’t the outdated laws preventing Tesla from offering simple test drives unfairly limit it from doing business and marketing itself in the state of Iowa? Tesla is, after all, a “small business” compared to Ford, Toyota, and GM (each of which, individually, produces more vehicles per day than Tesla has since its inception in 2003).

More important, aren’t these politicians, who were elected to serve their constituents, unfairly limiting the car buying options of those who voted them into office (many of whom have proven they wish to test drive and purchase all-electric cars, like those offered by Tesla)?

According to Anderson (a former attorney), auto dealership licensing “is a matter of consumer protection.” “You can’t just set up in a hotel parking lot and sell cars,” he said. Anderson denies targeting Tesla, saying “it’s not a Tesla issue. This is a regulated industry.” Meaning that it’s not only Anderson and dealerships that are the problem, but also state and federal politicians and bureaucrats. Do Anderson and the dealerships he represents really consider denying residents of their state the opportunity to test drive—let alone purchase—an all-electric vehicle to be “protecting” them?

model s and solar panelsCar dealers nationwide have been freaking out over Tesla’s entry into the crowded auto market. And for good reason. Tesla makes and sells sexy cars that are nearly silent, fast as a Porsche, and do zero damage to the local environment. But what really begins to sway consumers: Tesla’s all-electric vehicles are far cheaper to operate and maintain than their gas-guzzling siblings from Detroit and Tokyo. In comparison, the products from every other automaker—with the exception of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf—are more expensive to operate, damaging to human health, and contribute to climate change. (You can’t commit a Hollywood-style suicide in a Tesla with an open window in a closed garage.)

Because Tesla’s models are currently too expensive for the average joe, call the recent dealership shenanigans a pre-emptive strike. But pre-emptive or not, dealerships, their political allies, and shortsighted dopes like Anderson and his cronies are pulling out all the stops in their desperate efforts to stop Tesla in its tracks. Fortunately, Iowans can purchase Tesla vehicles online—like the rest of the country (helpful for residents of Arizona, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, and Virginia, where sales of Tesla vehicles are either banned or restricted).

If you think auto dealers are panicking now, wait until Tesla introduces its much-anticipated Model 3 in about three years. Slated to start at roughly $35K, the “everyman’s Tesla” will bring the fight between old-school car dealers and Tesla’s superior alternative to a head. Both dealership owners and auto manufacturers will be frantically spinning their 1988 Rolodexes to reach out to any politician owing them a favor.

But fear not, tree huggers and lovers of future-tech. Tesla will probably get the last laugh. Legacy Luddites like Anderson, Steier, Cownie, and McCoy are a dying breed. Their protectionist attitudes and policies, sustained at the expense of their fellow state citizens, will soon lie in the dinosaur boneyard, just like those 12 mile-per-gallon Hummers that are no longer for sale.

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Curt Robbins

[Also see my response to blog post commenter “bob” and my original Time for Tesla post. If you agree with any of the above, send Bruce Anderson a Tweet at @IADA_Bruce and let him know your feelings.]

Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Understanding TV Aspect Ratios

3d1Many of you probably purchased or received as a gift a display panel TV this holiday season. Welcome to the 21st century. Of all my tech gadgets, my Panasonic plasma displays are among my favorite. Regardless of whether you have an LED, plasma, or OLED display (lucky dork), you need to understand aspect ratios and letterboxing.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 6: Display Panels / TV, from my Kindle book Home Theater for the Internet Age.

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Curt Robbins

A TV’s aspect ratio is a comparison of the width and height of the picture displayed. Why is this a concern when this book doesn’t unnecessarily delve into technical matters? Because there’s consequences to a mismatch between the aspect ratio of your display device and that of the content you’re viewing.

Old TVs used to sport an aspect ratio of 4:3, the origins of which date back to 1909 with the standardization of 35mm film in cinema and the emergence of Hollywood. A 4:3 aspect ratio meant that TVs were four units wide and three units tall (regardless of the overall size of the display). This worked well back in the days when TVs displayed only over-the-air content, nearly all of which was broadcast in 4:3—meaning the aspect ratio of the content precisely matched that of everyone’s display unit. Ah, the good ol’ days. Things have gotten a bit more complicated in terms of the aspect ratios supported by both Hollywood and display manufacturers.

Aspect ratios can be expressed as either ratios or decimals. The “standard,” or non-widescreen aspect ratio of 4:3 from the old glass tube TV days, can be expressed as 1.33 (or 1.33:1, a “decimal ratio”). This means that the display is 1.33 units wide and one unit tall (decimal aspect ratios always assume a height of one unit). The common 16:9 aspect ratio, for example, is a decimal of 1.78 (again, shorthand for 1.78:1). Most modern movies are produced from 1.85 (just a smidge wider than 16:9) to 2.33, 2.39 (often indicated as 2.40), and sometimes even ultra-wide 2.59.


Preserving the aspect ratio of any content wider than 1.78:1 (16:9), when displayed on a 16:9 display panel, results in letterboxing—the black bars above and below the video. The letterboxing necessary for 1.85 format films is so slight that many consumers simply don’t notice it. It is easily perceived in films that are 2.33 or wider. Conversely, vertical letterboxing, or pillarboxing, is employed when 4:3 content, which is more narrow, is displayed on a 16:9 TV.

Pan & Scan

Pre-digital TV stations that broadcasted widescreen films (originally intended for commercial cinemas) back when everyone had 4:3 aspect ratio TVs sometimes employed letterboxing to preserve the original aspect ratio of the film. More commonly, however, movie studios engaged in pan-and-scan, a process of applying a 4:3 aspect crop to a widescreen or even ultra-widescreen film (thousands of which feature aspects ratios in excess of 21:9, or 2.33).

plasma display panelAs you can imagine, this pan-and-scan process discarded sometimes significant amounts of the movie display, severely bastardizing the intentions of thousands of movie directors and producers. Why? Simply because people wanted to watch widescreen content intended for movie theaters on their non-widescreen home TVs. Back in the day, when most people viewed tons of Hollywood films on their small and fuzzy TVs, they rarely saw what directors intended. On the rare occasions when letterboxing was employed, the image was too small on a common 19-inch TV for comfortable viewing from regular seating positions. No wonder grandma was into knitting, grandpa worked on motorcycles, and the words “home” and “theater” never found themselves in the same sentence.

Aspect Ratio Evolution

Aspect ratios have evolved within the worlds of display devices (TVs and movie theaters) and content producers (Hollywood) at a variety of competing and typically confusing ratios. At the most narrow, this includes the original silent films at 1.33, or 4:3 (1909-1937). This was, as you might have guessed, the aspect ratio that was adopted by consumer televisions that persisted until after the turn of the century; such old school TVs can still be found in some homes.

Other popular aspect ratios included 1.37 (Academy Ratio, beginning in 1937), 2.59 (Cinerama, from 1952 to 1974), 2.35 (CinemaScope, launched in 1953), 1.85 (VistaVision in 1954, nearly identical to today’s 1.78, or 16:9), 2.20 (Todd AO and Super Panavision 70, beginning in 1955), and the ultra-wide 2.76 (a format called MGM 65 that was around from 1957 to 1966). Why all the widescreen format introductions in the 1950s? It was Hollywood’s way of competing with 4:3 television programming, which was keeping people at home and out of movie theaters.

Since 2009, the majority of TVs sold have been 16:9, with all current television programming produced in this aspect ratio (some older content featured on Netflix and other services is in 4:3, revealed by the vertical letterboxing on widescreen TVs). Modern cinema differentiates itself with wider-than-16:9 aspect ratios produced at a few different levels.

The most popular cinematic aspect ratios today are 1.85 (almost perfectly suited to 1.78 widescreen TVs) and 2.39. 2.39 is the widest film format in common use today; it looks best in movie theaters, where it can fill the screen. Thus, by owning a widescreen TV, you can view both movies and TV shows as they were intended—it just might involve a bit of letterboxing.

[See also Goodbye Yellow Brick Plasma.]

Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.