Over the years, the courts have routinely supported the dealer system and its major advocate, the National Automobile Dealers Association. But few expect Tesla and its brash and determined founder and CEO Elon Musk to roll over.
"This is just a teething exercise right now," said Rusch, who has a $252 price target on the automaker. "It will certainly escalate the debate."
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The latest flap was touched off on Tuesday when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration ruled in favor of a state requirement that new cars must be sold through licensed franchises. The rule had been proposed by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission in October, about the time Tesla opened two of its own stores in the state.
The announcement triggered a testy response from Tesla, which accused the governor's office of having "gone back on its word" to find a compromise that would allow the carmaker to operate in the state. Tesla believes it will now have to shutter its New Jersey outlets or sell them to private franchisees.
"Having previously issued two dealer licenses to Tesla, this regulation would be a complete reversal to the long-standing position of [New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission] on Tesla's stores," Tesla said on its blog, adding its frustration that the issue is about more than "just Tesla customers, but also New Jersey citizens at large."
(Read more: Tesla soars, Ford falls in 'Consumer Reports' study)
Rusch said it's a "complete misnomer" to say the ban is in the best interest of consumers, as the dealer model increases the margins consumers pay for vehicles as well as the time it takes to buy a vehicle.
"[It] doesn't add any sort of increased service for consumers," he said.
Considering Tesla was initially planning just two stores in New Jersey, the news might not be a major inconvenience for potential buyers, especially those in the Greater New York or Philadelphia areas. Instead of going to the suburbs of Short Hills or Paramus, those on the north side of the Garden State can quickly access a number of showrooms in or near the Big Apple. At the other end of the state there's a Tesla retail outlet in the Philadelphia area's King of Prussia Mall.
Registration and tax issues can be a minor headache, but it's been common for years for consumers to shop across state lines if they can get better deals.
Tesla is far from the only automaker to have been frustrated over the years by the well-established franchise system. Ford Motor, for one, tried a number of alternatives around the beginning of the new millennium, including setting up factory-owned stores and exploring operations for direct online sales. The maker was ultimately forced to retreat due to established regulations as well as pressure from its existing retailers.
(Read more: Texas auto dealers—no special treatment for Tesla)