Auto retailers, makers call on Tesla to apply for franchise

From left to right: GM Vice President of Government Relations Christopher Grimaldi, Alliance of Auto Manufacturers Vice President of State Affairs Landon Fulmer, CARA board member Ken Crowley, CARA President James Fleming, CARA board member Jeff Aiosa, CARA board member Jonathan Larabee, CARA board member Tamara Jackson.

Kyle Constable / CTMirror.org

From left to right: GM Vice President of Government Relations Christopher Grimaldi, Alliance of Auto Manufacturers Vice President of State Affairs Landon Fulmer, CARA board member Ken Crowley, CARA President James Fleming, CARA board member Jeff Aiosa, CARA board member Jonathan Larabee, CARA board member Tamara Jackson.

The Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association (CARA) is calling on Tesla to apply for a franchise license in the state rather than trying to push for “special treatment” in the form of a legislative workaround.

Representatives from the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers and General Motors joined four CARA leaders for a press conference in Hartford Tuesday morning. They said the state’s auto franchise system works and should not be circumvented.

“Noticeably missing but nevertheless welcome in this lineup of dealers and manufacturers is Tesla,” CARA President James Fleming said. “We would welcome them to join us in the franchise system today, as we have asked them over the past couple of years when they’ve come in to visit the state of Connecticut.”

Auto retailers and manufacturers were prompted to hold the press conference by a bill Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, introduced that would allow electric car manufacturers to sell their vehicles directly to Connecticut consumers.

If passed, electric car manufacturers would be able to open up to three stores in the state. Current state law requires these companies to apply for a franchise license. The franchise license would require electric car companies like Tesla to offer vehicle servicing to customers.

Legislators first considered the bill last year, when it passed the House 116-32 late in the session – too late for the Senate to bring it up for consideration.

Fleming’s organization represents 270 new-car dealers and 14,000 employees in Connecticut. Representatives of the organizations at the press conference called for “equity” in the auto market and said the bill would jeopardize an effective system.

“The franchise system works,” Fleming said. “It’s efficient. It’s competitive. It understands the local market.”

“What we want to make sure we have is one set of regulations for everybody who’s going to compete in this marketplace,” said Landon Fulmer, vice president of state affairs for the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers. “We don’t need carve-outs, we don’t need loopholes. We need to make sure everybody plays by the same rules.”

The bill’s legislative supporters have said they hope the final language can strike a compromise between electric car companies and existing auto franchises in the state.

“We will work extremely close with the manufacturers out there, the car dealerships, in regards to how we go about crafting this language,” Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, said at a press conference announcing the legislation last month. “Will Tesla love the exact language that we have? Maybe not. Will the manufacturers love the exact language that we have? Maybe not. But at the end of the day, everyone will still be able to do business, and we’ll give those consumers out there the option of purchasing a vehicle they want.

Duff said he reintroduced last year’s bill word-for-word because he believed it would have the most support from both auto retailers and manufacturers as well as electric car manufacturers without a physical presence in Connecticut like Tesla.

He said last year’s negotiations that resulted in the three-store limit were supposed to be a compromise. But this year, the auto retailers and manufacturers have not budged.

“I don’t think this group would settle for anything short of defeat of the bill,” Duff said. “If there’s a compromise, I’m all ears.”

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