Tesla (CTNewsJunkie file photo)

After years of lobbying Connecticut’s legislature for an exemption to a law requiring that cars be sold through licensed dealerships, electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla will begin offering direct-to-consumer sales on sovereign tribal lands at Mohegan Sun. 

The tribal resort casino in Uncasville announced plans to open a sales and delivery center for Tesla vehicles in a press release on Wednesday. Beginning in the fall, consumers will have an opportunity to buy electric vehicles like Model Y, Model 3, and Model S and take them home directly from Mohegan Sun, the release said. 

“This endeavor with Tesla marks an electrifying milestone in Mohegan Sun’s commitment to fostering impactful relationships, promoting environmental sustainability and offering cutting-edge experiences for our millions of annual guests, each of which are core goals of Mohegan Sun and the Mohegan Tribe,” Jeff Hamilton, the resort’s president and general manager, said. 

The release describes the sales and delivery center as a first-of-its-kind venture to sell vehicles directly to consumers on tribal lands. 

The move effectively side-steps a Connecticut law that has long dissuaded Tesla from selling vehicles within the state’s borders. Tesla uses a direct sales business model, meaning consumers order the vehicles online and pick them up at dedicated stores. 

Since Connecticut statutes require new vehicles to be sold through licensed dealerships, consumers who purchase new Teslas travel outside the state to pick up the cars. 

For years, Tesla and other exclusively electric vehicle manufacturers have unsuccessfully encouraged state lawmakers to pass an exemption to the dealership law. Dealers have consistently opposed those bills, which they say make unfair exemptions for a handful of manufacturers who refuse to play by the long-accepted rules.

In a statement, Hayden Reynolds, chairman of the Connecticut Automotive Retail Association, said it was essential to balance respect for tribal sovereignty with maintaining a level playing field for the state’s auto dealerships. 

“We respect the Mohegan Tribe’s sovereignty and the unique circumstance in which they operate their businesses on Tribal land, but we strongly believe that this does not change the discussion about Tesla and other EV manufacturers with direct-to-consumer sales, and we continue to oppose that model,” Reynolds said. “Connecticut’s dealer franchise laws benefit consumers and provide a competitive marketplace.”

Although the so-called “Tesla bill” has progressed as far as passing the Connecticut House of Representatives in 2015, it has never made it across the finish line. The most recent incarnation of the bill did not receive a public hearing or advance out of committee during this year’s legislative session.

Earlier this year, proponents of the legislation said the urgency of carving out an exemption for exclusively electric manufacturers had faded as traditional manufacturers have increasingly begun selling their own electric models. 

“[T]his 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,” Transportation Committee House Chair Rep. Roland Lemar said in January. 

On Thursday, Lemar called Mohegan Sun’s planned Tesla center a “smart business decision” by both parties.

“It will be interesting to see if this compels the State to amend its regulations or does it just lead to Lucid, Rivian, etc to follow suit,” he said.

News of the new Tesla location coincides with Gov. Ned Lamont’s announcement this week that Connecticut will accelerate plans to shift electric vehicles by halting the sales of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035, mirroring transition standards enacted in California.

The new regulations require dealerships to offer a certain proportion of zero or low-emission vehicles by 2027. The percentage will increase until 2035 when all new sales must be electric,  hydrogen, or ultra-clean plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles.