May 18, 2017

Despite Capitol demonstration, some lawmakers uncertain about Tesla marketing bill

Lawmakers on Tuesday joined nearly 100 supporters of a bill that would open the state's automobile sales market to Telsa in an effort to amp up the pressure to pass a bill that has stalled in the General Assembly the past two years.

The legislation would allow a licensed motor vehicle manufacturer to sell its vehicles directly to Connecticut consumers under certain conditions. Current law prohibits car manufacturers from holding a new or used car dealer license, with few exceptions.

Under the bill, in order to sell directly to consumers, a manufacturer must meet certain criteria, including only manufacturing electric vehicles, which critics say is a provision that provides a special exception for a particular company.

Proponents, however, say the legislation would increase the number of jobs and help the state meet its vehicle emissions goals.

Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, a longtime supporter of the proposal, compared Tesla's founder Elon Musk to Thomas Edison.

"Why are we preventing an innovative company that's changing the world from coming to Connecticut," Linares asked. "Connecticut needs to open its arms to Tesla to let them sell cars, innovate, build renewable energy, and change the world here in Connecticut."

Behind Linares during the rally on the steps of the Capitol were about three dozen cardboard boxes filled with petitions from state residents asking their representatives to support the bill, he said.

Many area legislators remain skeptical.

Rep. Thomas Delnicki, R-South Windsor, said he's wary of unintended consequences, including other companies from around the world coming here and selling cars directly to consumers.

"I look back to electrical deregulation a number of years ago that was supposed to lower rates, and all it did was give us the highest rates in the country," he said.

Rep. Kurt Vail, R-Stafford, said he's not opposed to Tesla selling its product in the state, but it should abide by the same regulations as every other car manufacturer.

"I fundamentally have a problem creating two different playing fields for people performing the same task," he said.

Currently, there is nothing prohibiting Tesla from operating in the state, Rep. Christopher Davis, R-Ellington, maintained, provided they follow the same rules as other manufacturers.

"As far as I can tell from my conversations with them, I have not been convinced that they deserve some sort of special exemption," he said.

Rep. Michael Winkler, D-Vernon, said that with the number of car dealerships on Route 83, he is in "no hurry" to approve a special exemption for Tesla.

University of Connecticut graduate student Josh Litwin is pursuing a career in renewable energy and welcomes Tesla's technology on the road and in its recently announced solar panels.

He said that in order for him to stay in the state after graduating, there must be employment opportunities, which Tesla offers, he said.

"We have a huge opportunity before us," Litwin said. "A generation's future really depends on this."

Opponents have said that by allowing Tesla to sell directly to consumers, local car dealers would face job losses. Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, called this a "faulty assumption."

"It simply hasn't happened" in states where Tesla sells its vehicles, he said.

Rep. Jeffrey A. Currey, D-East Hartford, said he's spoken with car dealers who are uneasy about the potential for job losses and the possible negative impact on local economies.

He added that he intends to meet with Tesla representatives before making a decision.

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