Tesla sales ban in Connecticut stands as Duff pulls plug on bill

A Tesla at a charging station in Greenwich.

Jan Ellen Spiegel / CTMirror.org

A Tesla at a charging station in Greenwich.

The effort by Tesla to win legislative approval to directly sell its electric cars to consumers in Connecticut has failed for the second consecutive year in the face of opposition from car dealers and competing manufacturers, a Senate leader said early Saturday.

“I think the car dealers and others have been very effective in lobbying in their favor,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, the sponsor of this year’s Tesla bill, told the Connecticut Mirror. “We’ll come back again and try in another year.”

A similar bill passed the House last year, but never came to a vote in the Senate. Duff signing on as lead sponsor this year gave Tesla an influential ally in the upper chamber, but Duff told The Mirror his caucus was divided.

“I didn’t go into this to twist arms to pass it that way,” Duff said. “My job is to protect the caucus and the interests of the state.”

House Majority Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the House was prepared to pass a Tesla bill again. The company sought a no-limit bill, but Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chair of the Transporation Committee, said the version with the greatest chance of passage would have allowed two retail Tesla stores. Last year’s version would have allowed three.

Tesla has a service facility in Milford, but consumers must purchase the cars out of state, costing the state jobs and revenue, Guerrera said. Both New York and Massachusetts sell the vehicles.

General Motors, which has a regional office in Danbury and 43 dealerships in the state, stepped up its lobbying against Tesla this session, said Diarmud O’Connell, the vice president of corporate and business development for Tesla.

“This is using state legislators and a legislative body to prosecute a business strategy whereby they are trying to shut us down at the same time they are bringing out a competitive product,” O’Connell said. “The free market fairness question has to be asked: General Motors decided they were going to a franchise system in the 1920s and 30s. Good for them. Why wouldn’t Tesla as a free-market actor get to make that same choice now?”

Chris Grimaldi, GM’s regional director for governmental relations, says the answer is fairness.

“GM believes that all industry participants should operate under the same rules and requirements on fundamental issues that govern how we sell, service and market our products,” he said. “We, along with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Connecticut dealers, oppose the creation of two different sets of laws governing vehicle manufacturers in the state of Connecticut that would establish an uneven ‘playing field.’ “

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