Lawmakers: Tesla Bill Headed Toward Passage
HARTFORD — A leader of the legislature's transportation committee says that Tesla Motors will be able to sell cars in Connecticut later this year.
"The majority, like me, would love to see Tesla happen," Antonio Guerrera, the committee's co-chairman, said Thursday. "Tesla is not going to be killed."
In Connecticut, all new cars have to be sold through dealerships owned by outside franchisees.
Tesla, which manufactures the luxury electric cars in California, has showrooms in New York and Massachusetts, but in Connecticut it only has a service garage.
A bill in the legislature would allow Tesla to sell directly to customers. However, exactly what the bill will look like is still being negotiated with lobbyists for the automobile dealers, who originally opposed direct sales.
Fisker Automotive, another luxury electric car startup, would like to do direct sales, too, although it sold its Karma model through a Greenwich dealer before going bankrupt, according to Jay Malcynsky, who is lobbying for the company. Fisker was bought by a Chinese firm and intends to relaunch sales in 2016.
Guerrera said he talked to the Connecticut Automobile Retailers Association on Wednesday night and, he said, "they haven't come out and said 'no' yet" to including Fisker in the bill. He said the lobbying group's executives said they would have to talk to their members about whether they can accept direct sales from two companies.
The ranking Republican on the transportation committee, Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton, says the auto dealers' lobby has agreed to allow Tesla to bypass dealerships in exchange for a bill that shifts the balance of power toward dealers in their relationships with manufacturers. She said the dealers had been seeking the changes for years.
"I think on balance [auto dealers] got much of what they wanted this session. On the other hand, they also needed to compromise as well so we can move emerging technologies forward," she said.
Guerrera denied that the two bills were linked in any way.
"I would never, ever do that, do one bill for another," he said.
He acknowledged that the dealers asked for the changes two years ago, but said he turned them down at that time because he thought it was too soon to reopen the discussion because there had been a change to franchise regulation in 2011.
The franchisees' bill, which Guerrera said will pass easily because both manufacturers and dealers support it, changes the terms of how dealerships are treated when manufacturers stop making a certain line, such as Pontiac; limits manufacturers' ability to interfere with franchisee sales to family members; and restricts how manufacturers can dispute payments they made to dealers in connection with sales incentives.
Even though, in each case, the changes are more favorable to dealers than existing law, Guerrera said the final product "was a give and take."
James Fleming, president of the automotive lobbying group, declined to be interviewed. He issued a statement that said his group is engaged with the changes in policy in both bills. "Right now, we are in the process of crafting legislation that will both strengthen the local auto industry and be consumer friendly," he said. "Our discussions with leadership and the interested parties on these bills are progressing and we expect a positive outcome."
Boucher said, "I think that Tesla made a very compelling case to many, that it's a very unique automobile and that it needed an opportunity to see if there was a market for it. The world is changing at a very, very rapid pace and there are all kinds of paradigm shifts. And that causes some disruption to the established businesses."
About 500 people in Connecticut own Teslas. The cheapest model begins at $75,000.
"Of course, the market is very, very small. They're extremely expensive automobiles," Boucher said.
Tesla wants to add a sales floor to its garage location in Milford. It has no plans to open any other locations in the state, a Tesla lobbyist told The Courant in January.
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