A perennial bill to legalize the direct-to-consumer sales of certain electric vehicles appeared unlikely to gain traction this year as two key legislative supporters suggested the policy may no longer be necessary as traditional manufacturers increasingly move into the EV market.
Nearly every year, a state legislator proposes a bill to carve out an exemption to a Connecticut law requiring auto companies to sell their vehicles through franchise dealerships. The contemplated exception applies to companies like Tesla, Rivian and Lucid, which exclusively manufacture electric vehicles and stick to a business model that shuns dealerships in favor of direct sales.
Each time, supporters tout the expected environmental and economic benefits of new businesses and more EVs while the state’s traditional auto dealerships lobby to kill the proposal, which they consider an unfair conceit to manufacturers unwilling to play by the rules. While the bill has come as far as passing through the House, it’s never made it across the finish line.
Although this year’s long legislative session began just last week, early indications suggest the concept may already be close to stalling out.
At least one lawmaker has proposed a bill on the subject. Rep. Keith Denning, a first term Democrat from Wilton, submitted a bill to the Transportation Committee that would, as it’s currently written, allow any manufacturer to bypass the dealership model.
However, unlike prior years, the concept does not appear to have many champions in the state legislature. As of midday on Thursday, Rep. Roland Lemar, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the Transportation Committee, said no lawmaker had requested a public hearing to vet the bill.
“I wonder if its time has passed,” said Lemar, who has supported the concept during previous sessions. “I’ve been contacted on maybe 50 different bills and not a single legislator has reached out to me requesting a public hearing on a Tesla bill for this year.”
That lack of interest is unusual, he said.
In the past, Lemar said he viewed the so-called “Tesla Bill” as a proof of concept, demonstrating a market for EVs in Connecticut. And while Lemar continues to advocate for broader use of electric vehicles and an expansion of the necessary infrastructure, he said he no longer felt a need to carve out exemptions.
“I thought it was worthwhile for Connecticut to make an exception for [Tesla] and other American electric car manufacturers,” Lemar said. “But this year I don’t see the urgency to move and amend Connecticut’s laws given that every other car manufacturer in the country is moving forward with electric vehicle production.”
Lemar is not the only supporter of the concept pumping the brakes this year. Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Westport Democrat who has championed the bill in the past, said he still supports the concept of direct sales as a matter of consumer freedom. But, like Lemar, he felt less urgency to change the rules given the proliferation of EVs by traditional manufacturers.
Then there’s the matter of Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO who has remained in the headlines at least since October when he purchased the Twitter social media platform. This week, multiple outlets reported that Musk lost $165 billion between November 2021 and December 2022, breaking a world record for personal fortune loss.
Steinberg said Musk had made it difficult to support amending state law to benefit his company.
“On the merits themselves, because the industry is changing, there’s a little less urgency. Then you throw on the Elon Musk brand, which has really, unfortunately, made it harder in many ways to seem supportive of that,” Steinberg said.
At the very least, Steinberg said it was time to retire the bill’s colloquial title, “the Tesla Bill.”
“We will not use it anymore. That phrase is now dead,” Steinberg said. “Even before Musk went off the deep end, in my view, it had ceased to be the Tesla bill because of the rapid change in the industry itself.”