HARTFORD, CT — Another General Assembly session has come and gone and Connecticut consumers will still have to travel to Massachusetts or New York to purchase vehicles manufactured by Tesla.
That’s because legislation allowing Tesla to sell cars directly to consumers was never raised for debate. It made it through the Transportation and Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committees, but was never called for a vote in either chamber.
It’s the third year in a row that Tesla legislation has failed to get through the General Assembly.
“It’s such a complicated issue,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said Wednesday.
Aresimowicz said he was reluctant to say that it was the objections of the state’s car dealers, who are subject to the regulations under the state’s motor vehicle franchise system, that killed the Tesla bill.
“They’re (car dealers) saying they are required by Connecticut state law to operate under a certain set of rules and they were leery of a company coming in an offering a similar product and us saying the rules don’t apply,” Aresimowicz said.
“We just weren’t able to get there,” Aresimowicz said, adding that he thought the legislation would eventually pass, perhaps when the current car selling rules are relaxed a bit and Tesla bends its position a bit.
“Ultimately we’ll land somewhere in between,” Aresimowicz predicted. “I believe Tesla will happen in the state of Connecticut, I just don’t know when.”
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said he thought the issue might be resolved “when you see more Teslas” on the road.
Tesla is expecting to, shortly, debut its Model 3, which will sell for $35,000 — about half the cost of its current lowest selling vehicle.
“They’re not selling a lot of cars,” Ritter said. “As they get lower-end models,” he said, the political dynamic may change.
A spokesman for Tesla said the company wasn’t quite ready to give up on Connecticut, however.
“The residents of Connecticut overwhelmingly want Tesla to be able to freely operate in the state, and despite inaction during this session,” a company spokesman said, “we will continue to be a positive revenue option for the governor and legislature as they work through June to close the budget deficit.”
Tesla is allowed to sell direct to consumers in hundreds of states and countries. They are prohibited from selling directly in Connecticut, Michigan, Texas, and West Virginia, according to the company.
There are about 1,300 Teslas registered in Connecticut. That represents 62 percent of the electric vehicles in the state, according to the Palo Alto, California-based company.
During Transportation Committee public hearing testimony on the legislation, car dealers and manufacturers opposed the legislation.
Chip Gengras, who owns seven dealerships in Connecticut, testified that the franchise dealer system protects consumers and that it’s unfair that Connecticut would allow one car company to sell directly to consumers, while all the other car manufacturers have to use the franchise dealer system.
Jim Fleming, president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association, applauded the lack of action on the bill.
“We are incredibly grateful to the members of the General Assembly for holding true and protecting a growing industry in Connecticut,” Fleming said. “Today, under current law, any auto manufacturer can sell their product in Connecticut through the consumer-driven franchise system.”
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, testified during the public hearing: “I have no objections to Tesla sales in Connecticut, but I do not support carving out special exceptions that allow specifically for one company, which is what this legislation does. Our state has 250 auto dealers and 14,000 employees that follow our franchise laws.”
Tesla waged an extensive public relations campaign to try to garner support, including releasing a poll claiming there was overwhelming support for Tesla sales in Connecticut, while the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association waged their own campaign against the legislation as well.
Christine Stuart contributed to this story.