January 18, 2019

New governor and legislature, same Tesla bill

Flickr Creative Commons | Austin Kirk
Flickr Creative Commons | Austin Kirk
A Tesla Supercharger
Rohan Patel, Tesla's director of policy and business development, is feeling "bullish" about the company's Connecticut lobbying prospects this year.

Legislation seeking to allow electric-vehicle manufacturers like Tesla to sell their cars directly to consumers is now before the legislature for a fifth straight year.

Tesla has persistently lobbied state lawmakers to permit it to receive a dealer license, allowing it to bypass franchised auto dealerships, which have opposed Tesla-related bills successfully since 2015.

House Bill 5285 was introduced this week by Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-Wilton), who voted in favor of similar bills at the committee level in 2018 and 2017.

However, none of the Tesla-backed bills have reached a full vote in the House or Senate in the past three years. In 2015, the House approved a bipartisan compromise that would have allowed Tesla to open three stores in the state, but the bill didn't make it to a vote in the Senate.

Rohan Patel, Tesla's director of policy and business development, was in Hartford Thursday to speak and moderate discussion panels at the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters' environment summit.

On stage, he expressed confidence that the company's fifth lobbying effort could be a charm in Connecticut -- which is one of 16 states with laws prohibiting direct car sales, according to Yahoo Finance tech journalist David Pogue.

At the summit, Patel also introduced Gov. Ned Lamont, who delivered a 15-minute speech. Patel also mingled briefly with the governor as they watched newly appointed energy and environment commissioner Katie Dykes address the crowd.

Patel said a set of progressive state legislators and a new governor focused on transportation and climate change initiatives, should play out in Tesla's favor.

"I think all of the cards are lining up in the right way," Patel said in an interview.

Lamont owns a 2017 Tesla X, the Connecticut Post reported, and he also said during a debate at UConn last fall that he favored allowing the company to sell directly to consumers.

Patel said Connecticut is "hamstringing" itself by forcing residents who want to buy a Tesla to visit another state to do it.

"And by the way, Tesla does not want any tax break, handout, or anything else, we're actually looking to invest in stores and in jobs," he said.

In an interview Friday morning, Jim Fleming, president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association (CARA), pointed to Bloomberg's latest Tesla story detailing the company's layoffs and challenges rolling out a promised $35,000 model.

"I would take anything they say about [Connecticut] jobs with a very big grain of salt," Fleming said.

Fleming said Connecticut dealerships, which employ 14,000 people, are selling more than 40 models of electric vehicles, which according to data from the Auto Alliance, represent the majority of overall EV sales in Connecticut,

"If this is about getting EVs on the road, [this bill] is not going to accomplish that," said Fleming, who added that dealerships would be happy to compete with Tesla on a level playing field.

A larger concern for dealers, he said, is that state legislation aimed at Tesla could end up allowing other EV competitors to move into the Connecticut market.

Tesla and the DMV have been embroiled in a lawsuit over whether it was conducting selling activities at its Greenwich showroom in violation of state law. A judge sided with the DMV in October, according to the Greenwich Time. Tesla filed an appeal of the ruling in December, court records show.

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