Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Lawmakers renew push for electric cars
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.”