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Makers of electric vehicles plug bill that would allow them to sell vehicles in Connecticut

Lucid, Rivian or Tesla want to sell direct to customers but the state's car dealers oppose the bill

HARTFORD, Conn. — Many people are talking about battery-powered electric cars these days. New models from Ford, GMC, Kia, Toyota, and Volkswagen are making headlines. And if buyers want to see one of them, they can head down to the local dealer.

But in Connecticut, those interested in a Lucid, Rivian, or Tesla, can’t do the same.

The best buyers can do is go online and look at their website. There’s no place to test drive, buy or get one repaired in the state. As part of their business model, they want to forego the traditional car sales methods and sell to customers themselves. Tesla, for example, can sell their cars directly in about a dozen states.

Vehicle manufacturers are prohibited in Connecticut, and many other states, from selling directly to consumers. Any new cars are sold by their manufacturers to dealers, who then resell them to the public. The manufacturer is also prohibited from servicing their cars in the state as well.

On Wednesday, there were two Tesla Model 3s, a Rivian R1T and a Lucid Air Dream Edition parked in front of the state Capitol, for lawmakers to sit in and ask questions of the car makers' representatives.

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Tesla, which has been making and selling cars for more than a decade, is the leader in the EV marketplace. Rivian and Lucid are just starting to deliver cars to their first customers.

Prices range from $46,990 for a Tesla Model 3 up to $170,000 for the Lucid Air Dream Edition. There is a storefront in Greenwich where you can sit in the car and a service center in Milford. But to purchase the vehicle, buyers have to go to Massachusetts, New York, or Rhode Island.

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For the past several years, manufacturers of electric vehicles have lobbied for proposed legislation that would allow electric vehicle makers to sell direct to consumers and build service centers in Connecticut. That bill, SB 214, is opposed by Connecticut car dealers.

“We continue to oppose direct sale legislation, which gives a special carve-out for Tesla, Lucid, Rivian, and any other EV manufacturer seeking to enter the market. SB 214 is not in the best interest of Connecticut’s consumers and it provides a loophole to out-of-state companies,” said Jeff Aiosa, owner & President of Mercedes-Benz of New London and Hayden Reynolds, owner & General Manager of Reynolds Subaru in Lyme in a statement. “Connecticut’s new-car dealers are selling electric vehicles right now and offer consumers over 45 different models.”

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The dealers pointed out that they employ 14,000 residents and pay property taxes in their communities. They also point out they have installed 600 charging stations, contributing to the EV infrastructure.

“We would hire locally, the employees who would be full employees of Rivian, get full health, dental benefits, stock ownership, and opportunities for advancement. They'd be company employees, they'd be local,” said John Stephenson, director of state policy for Rivian. “And we'd we contribute to the local economy and the communities just like the traditional auto dealers.”

Stephenson said if the law is passed and signed, owning one of their trucks would be more convenient.

“And what we have found is that when things are more convenient, people will consume more of it," he said. "There will be we believe more EVs on the road. By selling direct, we've seen states sell more EVs without the need for necessarily for mandates, consumer preferences with high gas prices.”

SB 214, which was approved by the Transportation Committee by a vote of 21 to 14, would allow car makers to obtain a dealer’s license in the state, provided they do not already have a franchise dealer. It now goes to the legislature to be voted on. 

As of January, there were 21,382 EVs registered in the state, and the numbers have been climbing. 

Deborah Caviness, the founder of the Southern Connecticut Black Chamber of Commerce, supports the bill. In her written testimony, she said the legislation will help address historical inequalities in car sales.

Allowing the direct sale of electric vehicles will create an inclusive market, protecting customers who may otherwise fall prey to dealership tactics, Caviness said.

Mike Lynch, of Lynch Toyota in Manchester, in his written testimony, said that allowing direct sales for electric vehicle manufacturers would undermine the strong consumer protections currently upheld through the dealership model.

Doug Stewart is a digital content producer at FOX61 News. He can be reached at dstewart@fox61.com.

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