Virginia auto dealer group sues Tesla to stop second store in state

A Tesla logo is pictured on the hub of a car during the second media day of the 86th International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland, March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

DETROIT (Reuters) - The Virginia Automobile Dealers Association (VADA) on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Tesla Motors Inc TSLA.O and Virginia state officials to keep the electric car maker from opening a second dealership in the state.

The VADA claims in the suit filed in circuit court in Fairfax County, Virginia, that Tesla and the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner, Richard D. Holcomb, are violating a 2013 agreement that Tesla could not consider owning and operating a second dealership in Virginia until at least August 2017.

Tesla has a dealership in Tysons Corner in the relatively affluent area of northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., which opened in February 2015.

Don Hall, president of the VADA, said in an interview with Reuters that Tesla and the Virginia DMV tried to keep the VADA in the dark about Tesla’s efforts to open a second dealership.

The suit claims that Holcomb named a hearing officer for a DMV hearing of the Tesla request and that a hearing is set for March 31.

“They tried to get this done very quickly, in the dark of the night, in hopes that no one could know about it,” Hall said.

A member of his organization learned of a real estate deal for property in Richmond for a Tesla store, alerting him to the request and, eventually, the lawsuit filed on Wednesday, Hall said.

Calls to Tesla and to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles were not immediately returned on Wednesday afternoon.

Tesla has been fighting for the right to own and operate its own dealerships, and has sought to open its own stores in several states despite franchise laws that do not allow, in most cases, a manufacturer to own and operate an auto dealership.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Sandra Maler