Electric cars

As More Drivers Own Electric Vehicles in CT, Direct Sales Debate Heats Up Again

As More Drivers Own Electric Vehicles in CT, Direct Sales Debate Heats Up Again

State lawmakers advanced legislation last week that would allow the first direct sales of electric vehicles in Connecticut, sparking another showdown between electric automakers and traditional car dealerships.

the legislationsponsored by Transportation Committee Co-Chair Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, would allow electric vehicle makers such as Tesla, Rivian and Lucid Motors that do not have franchise agreements with Connecticut dealerships to sell their vehicles directly to consumers.

The lack of franchise dealerships for electric startups has forced Connecticutans to travel out of state to buy new vehicles from these manufacturers, even as electric car registrations have soared in recent months.

Of the more than 21,000 electric vehicles registered in Connecticut, more than a quarter were purchased in the last six months of 2021according to new figures reported by the State Department of Motor Vehicles.

“My constituents who want to go electric and buy the hottest car on the market, they have to drive to Mount Kisco, NY,” Haskell said. “I think our state policies should make it easier, not harder, for people to get electricity.”

Haskell said the support for legislation from companies like Tesla is indicative of their desire to open physical locations in the state, especially in wealthier areas such as Fairfield County.

The legislation faces fierce opposition from traditional car dealerships with a track record of success pushing back against past efforts to allow the direct sale of vehicles, including a bill who went to the Senate last year to urge no further action by lawmakers.

Opponents of direct sales argued that the legislation would create a loophole in Connecticut’s franchise law for EV makers, while traditional automakers like Ford and Toyota would still be required to sell new cars through the intermediary of dealers.

Those dealerships in turn employ more than 14,000 workers in Connecticut, while providing additional services such as maintenance and repairs, opponents of the bill said.

“This loophole benefits large out-of-state corporations at the expense of local Connecticut businesses,” Chrissy Monaco, owner of Monaco Ford in Glastonbury, said in testimony submitted to lawmakers. “Franchise laws are in place to ensure that adequate protections are provided to buyers purchasing motor vehicles. New car dealerships are important advocates for their customers and this bill eliminates that support system.

Haskell, however, said his legislation would simply allow EV makers to apply for their own new or used car dealership licenses, subjecting them to the same laws and regulations as regular dealerships.

READ MORE: Record number of electric vehicles registered in CT before gas prices soar, data shows

At least 20 states, including New York, Illinois and California, allow some automakers to sell directly to consumers, according to Axios.

In testimony before the committee, representatives from Tesla and other electric vehicle makers argued that their direct-selling models offered lower and more transparent costs for customers.

“There’s no endless bargaining or intense pressure to leave the store with a new car, rather we spend time educating our customers on the technology, answering countless questions about charging, performance battery, etc., and preparing them for electric vehicle ownership,” Tesla lobbyist Zach Kahn told lawmakers.

The surge in direct vehicle sales has also come under scrutiny this year from Republicans, who have accused Haskell and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, of participate in a political fundraiser through a local electric car club.

Both lawmakers denied seeking contributions for the event, which was later canceled.

One of the top Republicans on the Transportation Committee, State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, said that despite his support for direct vehicle sales legislation in the past, he was concerned that new startups in the electric vehicle industry don’t have the track record of producing viable products like Tesla.

At the same time, he said, traditional automakers such as General Motors, Ford and Volvo are selling increasing numbers of electric vehicles in Connecticut.

“They move with the times and with the market, so I kind of see the need for this legislation to go away,” Carney said. “I don’t think we should open the door to untested companies.”

The bill eventually passed the Transportation Committee with overwhelmingly Democratic support, although a few members from each party crossed paths in the vote. The bill will then go to the Senate.

Writer Luther Turmelle contributed to this report.