Lon Seidman / ctnewsjunkie file photo
Teslas Milford Service Center (Lon Seidman / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Electric car enthusiasts, who are almost evangelical in their love of their vehicles and the environment, told the Transportation Committee Monday that they want to see electric vehicle companies, like Tesla, sell their vehicles in Connecticut.

Currently, direct from the manufacturer car sales are not allowed in Connecticut. That means companies like Tesla and a small number of electric car manufacturers are unable to sell their vehicles in Connecticut. 

Tesla and car dealers were unable to reach an agreement four years ago that would allow the company to sell directly to consumers. Both sides have left it up to lawmakers to decide whether the dealer franchise laws should apply to companies like Tesla.

Some lawmakers are still hoping the two sides can broker a deal.

Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, said she thinks it’s universally accepted that having “Tesla cars for sale in Connecticut would be phenomenal, the issue is how to do it.”

She said that’s where they need to have discussions and possibly some compromise between the two sides.

She said the car dealers have been following the franchise rules and they’ve been in place for a very long time. They’re also companies that employ a lot of Connecticut residents.

“I hope we can find a way for those cars to sell,” Devlin said.

It’s the fifth year the General Assembly has debated allowing electric car companies like Tesla sell directly to consumers.

Chip Gengras, the only dealer who testified Monday, said the bill allowing direct sales of electric vehicles “will not only allow Tesla a special unlevel playing field to sell cars in our state, but also extend that privilege to hundreds of Chinese auto manufacturers that exclusively make electric vehicles, exporting jobs from Connecticut and the US overseas.”

Gengras, president of Gengras Automotive and an officer and Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association board member, said 92 percent of all electric vehicles are sold by franchise car dealerships.

He said that 44 electric vehicle models are being sold by franchised dealers and the number will double by 2025.

“Cleary, the franchise system is the best way to get EVs onto Connecticut roads, and isn’t that the ultimate goal of everyone?” Gengras testified. “The only way Connecticut will meet its ZEV goals under CARB is with affordable vehicles driven every day by the average working person, not the 1 percent who can afford the high-priced weekend vehicles produced by Tesla.”

Albert Gore, a policy and business development manager at Tesla, testified that Connecticut is part of a nine state coalition that has pledged to put 3.3 million zero-mission vehicles on U.S. roads by 2025, but it’s the only one that doesn’t allow Tesla to sell its vehicles.

Tesla owners in Connecticut generally travel to New York or Massachusetts to purchase their vehicles. There is a Tesla service center in Milford if repairs need to be made to the vehicle.

Kent Golden, a Quinnipiac University professor who is not associated with Tesla or any electric vehicle club, said he ordered his Tesla Model 3 online, but was forced by Connecticut law to travel to New York to pick it up.

Along the way he and his wife stopped for lunch and shopping and all of his tax dollars related to the purchase went to New York.

“Connecticut is literally driving people out of the state in order to get what it is that they are looking for,” Golden said.

One of the reasons people are investing in electric vehicles is to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

Claire Coleman, an attorney at Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said that transportation is Connecticut’s biggest climate polluter.

“Connecticut won’t meet its greenhouse gas reduction mandates unless we get a lot more electric vehicles on the road,” Coleman said.

Tesla said it’s continued to reach out to the dealers in hopes of brokering a deal.

“We want to be in Connecticut, and we want to talk to our friends in the dealer association about how to do that in a way that addresses their concerns, but the only way to bring them to the table is for policymakers to say the status quo is not working, is not acceptable, and needs to change,” Gore said.

Richard Jordan, a Tesla owner who testified in favor of the legislation, said if he wants to buy an iPad he can go to the Apple Store or he can go to Best Buy.

“Times change,” Jordan said.

He said government shouldn’t dictate how he purchases products. He said it should be up to the consumer.

Last year’s bill made it through two committees before it was tabled in April. Lawmakers asked Tesla to broker a deal with the car dealers, but the two sides were never able to reach an agreement.