Tesla Loses Direct Sales Fight In Connecticut And North Carolina

For the second year in a row, Tesla has lost its bid to sell its automobiles directly to customers in Connecticut, thanks in large part to fierce opposition from General Motors. Prospects were brighter for Tesla this year. Legislation allowing the company to open direct sales stores in Connecticut had the support of senate majority leader Bob Duff and Antonio Guerrera, co-chairman of the house transportation committee. “Tesla is prepared to make a real and lasting commitment to Connecticut,” said Will Nicholas, Tesla’s government relations manager. “We want to invest here. We want to create jobs here. And we want to serve Connecticut customers.”

Direct sales protest in NC

But it was not to be. At the last moment, a full court press orchestrated by General Motors caused an agreement among Connecticut’s Democrat party members in the legislation fell apart. “Without an agreement I couldn’t bring it to a vote in the Senate,” said Duff, who vowed the revisit the issue next year. “New car dealers and GM are powerful lobbyists,” he said.

Representative Guerrera told the CT Post, “It was my impression that the Senate was trying to work this out among the members of the Democratic caucus. In light of the economic situations we’re enduring right now, I think that it’s a great opportunity for us to enhance a new business like Tesla to come to the state.”

Late Monday afternoon, Tesla put a new proposal on the table. In exchange for permission to sell direct to customers in Connecticut, it said it would construct a regional distribution center in the state. The facility would add 150 jobs paying between $40,000 and $100,000 a year. Each of the three proposed company stores would add another 25 good paying jobs within Connecticut. The offer came too late, however.  Senator Duff told Fox News late on Monday that Tesla could have put the proposed distribution center idea forward months ago if it was truly serious. Tesla must now wait until next year to try again in Connecticut.

Meanwhile, a similar drama is playing out in North Carolina, where once again a powerful lobby of franchise dealers is doing everything in its power to block Tesla from selling direct to customers in the Tar Heel State. According to CleanTechnica, race car driver and Tesla owner Leilani Münter submitted written testimony to North Carolina officials, pointing out that 93% of residents say they are in favor of Tesla being able to sell direct to them. But once again, it appears the dealer’s association has enough political muscle to keep legislation favorable to Tesla from passing.

What are dealers so afraid of? For one thing, they have billions of dollars invested in their franchises and are worried that Tesla will put them out of business. The truth is, Tesla very well may do precisely that. The irony is that franchise dealers have shown a stunning disinterest in selling electric cars. They are pedaling furiously to protect a business model that is out of date. Like the dinosaurs, they are already dead. They just don’t know it yet.

Last month, we did an  article about the Chevy Volt and Chevrolet dealers. That article got several comments from Gas2 readers who say that dealers in their area were so clueless, they didn’t even know the Volt has a battery and needs to be plugged in. It was not just salesmen who were uninformed. Sales managers also had no understanding of what makes a Volt different from a conventional car and no desire to learn.

Chevrolet says it is working hard to get its dealers on board. But why is it like pulling teeth? Why would GM work so hard to protect people who show little or no interest in selling the products the company makes? Someone smarter than me will have to answer that question. In the meantime, Tesla is going full speed ahead with its plans to bring the Model 3 to market. It is so confident about its new car, it says it will be selling a half million cars a year by 2018 — two full years sooner than its previous expectations.

What is happening in state legislatures around the country proves beyond a doubt that most local politicians could care less about the public interest. Their only interest is in staying in power and reaping the largest campaign contributions possible. The will of the people be damned.

Sources: CT Post and CleanTechnica.  Photo credit: Leilani Münter

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.