A Tesla at a charging station in Greenwich. Jan Ellen Spiegel / CTMirror.org
Rep. Tony Guerrera
Rep. Tony Guerrera CTMIRROR.ORG

The House of Representatives approved a controversial bill Thursday that would allow Tesla, a California-based electric car manufacturer, to sell vehicles in Connecticut.

The bill, which cleared the House on a 116-32 vote and now heads to the Senate, enjoyed bipartisan support.

“Choose innovation on this bill,” said Rep. Jesse McLachlan, R-Westbrook, who said Connecticut would be unwise not to recognize growing consumer demand for “a paradigm-shifting model” in automotive technology.

“If you look out there on our roads you will see more and more of these vehicles,” said Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, who co-chairs the Transportation Committee.

Guerrera said many of his constituents have expressed frustration that they cannot purchase Tesla vehicles from a Connecticut location.

“My constituents want the opportunity to own this kind of vehicle,” added Rep. Dan Carter, R-Bethel. “The question is choice.”

But under current law, consumers don’t have that option. Connecticut is one of 45 states that only allows licensed dealers – and not auto manufacturers – to sell vehicles directly to consumers.

The measure approved Wednesday in the House sets several conditions that would allow electric car manufacturers to sell vehicles at as many as three locations in Connecticut. According to nonpartisan legislative researchers, Tesla is the only company that currently meets all conditions set forward in the bill.

Tesla is free to sell vehicles in neighboring states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

But opponents argued the matter wasn’t as simple as recognizing consumer interest in new technology.

Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Southington, said many small businesspeople “scraped and sacrificed” to open car dealerships under existing law.

This bill “picks and chooses which business will have the upper hand going forward,” he said, adding that several of his constituents consider the measure unfair. “Their reaction to me is this is crony capitalism.”

“It’s all about fairness,” Rep. David Yaccarino, R-North Haven, said explaining his opposition. He added that several other electric car manufacturers, whose vehicles retail or much less than Tesla charges, still are unable to sell in Connecticut.

Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s vice president for business development, said after Wednesday’s vote that this measure wouldn’t harm traditional auto dealerships, and only builds the overall electric car market for all manufacturers.

“We are launching a new technology and representing that technology to the public is part of our education mission,” he said, adding he is optimistic about the bill’s chances of becoming law.

O’Connell noted that the Connecticut House vote is just the latest in a series of bipartisan endorsements. Bills to allow Tesla to sell in three other states also have advanced this year with Democratic and Republican backing.

A key environmental advocate also hailed the bill’s passage in the House.

“It’s another step to help get more electric vehicles on the road in Connecticut,” said Christopher Phelps, state director for Environment Connecticut.

With the regular 2015 session set to adjourn on June 3, Phelps said he is optimistic the measure could make it to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk. “It’s enough time to get it done in the Senate, and we’re hopeful,” he said.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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