Connecticut Post (Sunday)

Lawmakers renew push for electric cars

- By Paul Schott

Connecticu­t has taken many steps in the past few years to build a greener economy.

But it still needs to do much more, according to a number of lawmakers and environmen­tal advocates. State Sen. Will Haskell, D- Westport, and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D- Westport, are among those pushing for more action.

The duo have introduced a bill that aims to boost the state’s nascent electric- vehicle market by allowing EV manufactur­ers such as Tesla to directly sell their automobile­s to Connecticu­t customers without operating franchised dealership­s.

Representi­ng the latest version of a long- debated proposal in the state legislatur­e, the new bill has garnered support from other legislator­s and many electric- vehicle owners. But it faces opposition from the state’ s leading automobile­retailers associatio­n. Still, supporters and critics concur on the need to put more electric vehicles on the road.

“If we’re serious about meeting our electric- vehicle goals, meeting our climateemi­ssions goals and preserving our resources for the next generation, then we’ve got to put our money where our mouth is and actually make it possible for our constituen­ts to convenient­ly access those very electric vehicles,” Haskell said in an interview.

Reasons to go electric

Green initiative­s comprise a key part of the agenda of Gov. Ned Lamont, who announced this week the latest details of the state’s efforts to combat climate change through a regional consortium.

State officials are aiming to help put 125,000 to 150,000 electric vehicles on the road in Connecticu­t by 2025.

An “Electric Vehicle Roadmap” published last year by the state Department of Energy and Environmen­tal Protection said Connecticu­t suffered from “some of the worst air quality in the country” and that the transporta­tion sector accounted for 38 percent of the state’s greenhouse- gas emissions.

Annual sales of new lightduty vehicles in Connecticu­t range each year from approximat­ely 150,000 to 180,000, but electric automobile­s account for only 2 percent of the total, according to the report.

There were nearly 2.4 million light- duty passenger cars and trucks registered in Connecticu­t when the DEEP report was published. But as of Jan. 1, there were only 13,800 electric vehicles registered in the state, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

“The problem is if you look at the numbers in terms of electric- vehicle registrati­on data from the DMV, we’re not on track to reach that ( 2025) goal,” Haskell said. “We’re not going to get there unless we dramatical

ly take steps to make it easier for folks to afford an electric vehicle and then to actually buy an electric vehicle.”

Tesla supports the new bill. The Palo Alto, Calif.- based company dominates the market, accounting for 70 percent of the state’s registered electric vehicles at the end of 2019, according to DEEP. The purchase price for a “standard range plus” version of Tesla’s Model 3 sedan is about $ 37,000, according to the Tesla website.

There is one Tesla location in the state, a leasing and service center at 881 Boston Post Road in Milford. The company maintains brickand- mortar establishm­ents in about 30 states. None of its locations are franchised dealership­s, as the company has always eschewed that sales framework.

The firm operated a gallery in Greenwich from 2016 to 2019. Its closing reflected the company's shift to an online- only sales strategy.

Operation of the Greenwich showroom sparked a three- and- ahalf- year legal battle involving Tesla, the Connecticu­t Automotive Retailers Associatio­n and the DMVover whether Tesla was making sales there. After a state Superior Court judge ruled against the company in December 2018, Tesla filed an appeal. It withdrew the appeal in January 2020.

Proponents and opponents

The Haskell- Steinberg bill would allow electric- vehicle manufactur­ers to obtain new or usedcar dealer licenses in Connecticu­t — so long as they did not have franchise agreements with any new car dealers in the state, did not produce non- electric vehicles, and committed to servicing their automobile­s.

“My district has the highest electric- vehicle ownership in the entire state, but something I hear constantly from my constituen­ts is that they don’t understand why they have to go to ( the Tesla center in) Mt. Kisco, N. Y., to get their electric vehicle,” Haskell said. “It’s bad environmen­tal policy, but it’s also just bad economic policy that we’re sending car buyers across the state border to purchase this vehicle.”

If the bill passed, Tesla would have “every intention” of opening sales locations in Connecticu­t, Tesla senior policy adviser Zachary Kahn said Friday during testimony in an online meeting of the state legislatur­e’s Transporta­tion Committee.

In addition to Steinberg, a number of other Transporta­tion Committee members have also expressed support for the bill.

“I am looking at components of this bill, in conjunctio­n with others, that would aggressive­ly move us toward a much cleaner and sustainabl­e transporta­tion fleet in our state,” said state Rep. Roland Lemar, D- New Haven, the Transporta­tion Committee’s chairman.

State Rep. Devin Carney, R- Old Saybrook, said he also supported more electric vehicles — particular­ly through more affordable models and greater competitio­n among manufactur­ers. He was more ambivalent about direct sales.

“In a time when many small businesses are struggling to keep the lights on, I think we need to find a happy medium where car dealers and electric- vehicle companies can coexist,” said Carney, a ranking member of the Transporta­tion Committee.

In the past few years, the state legislatur­e has considered other bills to allow electric- vehicle manufactur­ers to sell directly, but all of those proposals have foundered.

“Unlike similar bills that have been introduced in the past, this one applies to any manufactur­er of exclusivel­y electric vehicles that does not have an establishe­d dealer network,” said EV Club of Connecticu­t President Barry Kresch, whose group wrote the original version of the new bill. “Earlier versions were more narrowly crafted, and while they did not include the word ‘ Tesla’ in them, the requiremen­ts meant they could only apply to Tesla.”

But there is also significan­t opposition. Legislatio­n seeking to allow direct vehicle sales “hurts consumers and seeks to benefit only certain companies,” said Connecticu­t Automotive Retailers Associatio­n President Sarah Fryxell. CARA represents Connecticu­t’s 270 new- vehicle dealership­s.

At the same time, CARA officials reiterated their support for the Connecticu­t Franchise Act and franchise agreements, which govern dealership­s’ new- vehicle sales.

“The law ensures a fair and reasonable business relationsh­ip between locally owned auto dealers and the multinatio­nal automobile manufactur­ers,” Fryxell said. “What’s more, the Franchise Act and franchise agreements protect Connecticu­t consumers by providing them with fair and encompassi­ng warranties, guaranteei­ng state and federal safety laws are followed, providing the enforcemen­t of the lemon and fair lending laws and establishi­ng guidelines for safety recalls.”

Haskell, Steinberg, and Tesla officials responded that the new bill would maintain consumerpr­otection laws.

“We want to come in and set up a dealership, have a sales team, have a service team — all like you would see at a traditiona­l dealership,” Kahn said. “We want to meet all the rules and regulation­s that oversee dealership­s in Connecticu­t. Tesla has never had a franchisee relationsh­ip with anyone around the world, so there’s no concern about us unfairly competing with our franchisee­s because we simply don’t have them.”

During the Transporta­tion Committee hearing, representa­tives of electric- vehicle makers Lucid Motors and Rivian also spoke in support of the bill.

The world’s largest automobile manufactur­ers are also setting increasing­ly ambitious EV goals. Ford pledged this past week to convert all of its passenger vehicles in Europe to electric power by 2030, while Jaguar announced a plan to go fully electric by 2025. General Motors committed last month to making electric the vast majority of its vehicles by 2035.

“There are a number of other new manufactur­ers — as innovative as Tesla, perhaps — who are also interested in direct sales to really push the envelope on the kind of choice that we offer to people here in Connecticu­t,” Steinberg said in the hearing.

Enthusiasm for electric vehicles

In a recently released report from the American Council for an Energy- Efficient Economy, Connecticu­t ranked 13th among the states in encouragin­g consumers to buy electric vehicles.

Among key programs, the Connecticu­t Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate ( CHEAPR) provides incentives toward purchases or leases of eligible electric vehicles.

“We've made some good progress with the CHEAPR program, but it’s simply insufficie­nt and consistent­ly underfunde­d,” Steinberg said. “If we're really going to move the needle, we need to enable working- class people to get EVs, probably previously owned and certainly subsidized. And we have a long way to go, as most states, to develop an effective charging network and convert state fleets.”

Despite CARA’s opposition to direct sales, Fryxell said that the organizati­on and new car dealership­s have “proudly partnered” with the CHEAPR program and that the amount of electric vehicles sold in the state is “testament to the locally owned dealership­s’ commitment to the needs of our customers and to Connecticu­t’s cleanair efforts.”

Haskell said he welcomed dealership­s’ support of electric vehicles, citing the need for broad backing to achieve the state’s green objectives.

“I can’t personally afford an electric vehicle yet,” he said. “But as the youngest member of the General Assembly ( Haskell was born in 1996), I think a lot about two things: how to modernize our state’s statutes — some of which are drasticall­y outdated — and also how can we protect our planet so the next generation has clean air and clean water to enjoy here in Connecticu­t. That’s why this bill is so important to me.”

 ?? Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Tesla operates a gallery and service center at 881 Boston Post Road in Milford.
Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticu­t Media Tesla operates a gallery and service center at 881 Boston Post Road in Milford.

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