Roughly 70 car dealers descended upon the Connecticut State Capitol on Wednesday to protest legislation that would allow Tesla Motors to sell its vehicles in-state without having to partner with independent dealerships.
Connecticut State Sen. Art Linares proposed a bill in January that would “make it easier” for electric cars like Tesla’s, broadly, to bypass franchise dealerships. Nearly 40 other states — including Washington, Massachusetts and Ohio — have implemented policies to allow Tesla to sell vehicles directly to consumers. Opponents of the bill say that such legislation would adversely affect both car buyers and local dealerships, which they claim are better equipped to sell the cars and protect consumer rights. Representatives from Tesla could not be reached for comment this week.
“Granting Tesla a corporate loophole is a risky business and will circumvent longstanding consumer protections and jeopardize local businesses that have operated under these laws in good faith for over 40 years,” Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association President James Fleming said in a public hearing statement at the State Legislative Office Building earlier this month.
At that public hearing, the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee discussed the bill. The hearing included testimony from Tesla officials, Linares and dealers.
Though Linares acknowledged the important role car dealerships play in Connecticut, he added that the state should be more willing to make electric vehicles available. He also noted that the bill specifies Tesla as the main brand that would be exempt from normal dealership standards — he referenced a personal experience traveling out-of-state to New York to purchase a Tesla vehicle directly from a company-owned store as one that could be avoided by passing his recommendations.
But Fleming countered that new legislation is not necessary to increase accessibility to electric cars.
“We want the public to know that local Connecticut dealers are ready and willing to sell Tesla immediately,” Fleming continued in the statement. “We currently offer many electric vehicles through our dealerships and we are strong supporters of growing that market. We additionally have worked with the State of Connecticut to expand electric charging stations and promote incentives.”
He added that this legislation could set a dangerous precedent for other car companies. Almost all of the 270 dealerships in the state are family-owned, Fleming said, and such legislation could change the car-marketing landscape.
Also on Feb. 6, Rep. Tony Guerrera told the Associated Press about the potential course of allowing Tesla to open a limited number of stores — tentatively no more than 10 — in Connecticut. Though Tesla executives approved of the thought, he said, Connecticut dealership representatives balked at it.
To further oppose the bill’s passage, CARA launched an online campaign at TeslaCrash.com, which features the tagline “Don’t Let Tesla Crash into Connecticut’s Consumer Laws.”
Several other state legislatures are also debating similar issues. For example, on Oct. 21, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law to clarify and strengthen existing policy allowing direct auto sales. But Dave Murray, Snyder’s deputy press secretary, said the passage of the bill would not have made an extensive impact on car companies either way.
“Had [Gov. Snyder] vetoed the bill, it would not have changed the way Tesla wants to do business,” Murray said.
Tesla is based in Palo Alto, Calif., and currently has company stores in roughly 20 states.