February 5, 2018

Tesla to mount attempt No. 4 at the Capitol

Flickr Creative Commons | David van der Mark
Flickr Creative Commons | David van der Mark
A charging unit on a Tesla Supercharger

In Connecticut, Tesla could be a synonym for "persistent."

The electric-vehicle manufacturer (which also owns solar installer SolarCity), has tried but failed for the past three years to get its direct-sales business model legalized in Connecticut. Tesla representatives made the rounds at the state Capitol last week in advance of the legislative session that kicks off Wednesday.

The company has secured a pledge to get a bill introduced again this year, said Will Nicholas, Tesla's government relations manager.

Nicholas said Tesla sees Connecticut as one of the biggest potential markets it has not yet been able to fully tap.

The company has faced steep opposition from car dealerships, headed by the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association (CARA), which says no company should be allowed to avoid the state's longstanding laws requiring car makers to sell through third-party franchisees. Dealers say that model protects consumers and that auto dealers have a greater economic impact than a direct-sales store would. Tesla argues the direct model protects dealerships from competition and that dealers are not doing a good enough job putting electric cars on the road.

Meanwhile, Tesla remains embroiled in a lawsuit against the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which agreed with CARA last year that the car-maker's Greenwich gallery requires a sales license, though Tesla says it's not selling cars from that location. The facility remains open pending Tesla's appeal.

CARA, which speaks for more than 270 dealers that together employ 14,000 workers, had previously challenged the Greenwich gallery on zoning grounds, but the effort was unsuccessful.

Jim Fleming, CARA's president, said he hopes a committee won't raise a Tesla bill this year.

"My hope is the committee reconsiders raising bill while we are in litigation," Fleming said, referring to Tesla's DMV appeal.

If a bill is filed, Fleming said CARA will oppose it, as it has in the past.

The legislature thus far has favored the dealerships, with a Tesla bill reaching a vote in the House just once, in 2015, and never in the Senate.

Connecticut is one of a handful of Tesla-coveted states that have thus far rebuffed the company's efforts to create a loophole in their respective franchise laws.

In a not-so-distant development, Tesla will open its first store in Rhode Island this year. It also has stores in Massachusetts and New York (which is where most Connecticut residents travel to purchase a Tesla).

Despite the extra steps needed, more than 1,600 Connecticut residents own a Tesla.

Nicholas said more than three times that number have paid a deposit to reserve the company's relatively lower-priced Model 3, which is now in production (though at a slower pace than originally hoped).

In past years, Tesla tried to woo legislators by offering to build a major distribution center in the state, and then opening 10 stores employing 250 people, but it hasn't worked. Tesla has refused to budge on its direct sales model.

Tesla is citing support from several lawmakers, Democrat and Republican alike, including House Minority Leader Themis Klarides (R-Derby), Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Sprague), Sen. Chris Rosario (D-Bridgeport) and Sen. Art Linares (R-Westbrook).

Nicholas declined to say what Tesla planned to invest in this year's lobbying effort.

You probably won't spot any Tesla commercials, billboards or radio ads in the months ahead. Unlike many other interest groups or lobbyists, the company tends to avoid media buys.

Nicholas said he hopes that hitting on economic and environmental impacts of letting the company ply its trade in the state, as Tesla has done before, will be more impactful this time around.

How's he feeling overall, headed into the session?

"I'd be crazy to tell you I'm optimistic," he said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comment from CARA.

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly called the Tesla Model S a lower-priced model. The company's lower-priced model in the Model 3.

Read more

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Legislature lets Millstone, Tesla bills die

Tesla pledges 10 CT stores, dealerships doubtful

CT coalition opposes direct EV-sales bill

Car makers join CT auto dealers in opposition to Tesla bill

Duff revives Tesla bill for direct sale to consumers

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