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Tesla skirts CT direct sales ban, plans retail location at Mohegan Sun

Tesla plans to open a "sales and delivery" location within Mohegan Sun casino.
Mohegan Sun
Tesla plans to open a "sales and delivery" location within Mohegan Sun casino.

Electric vehicle maker Tesla has been selling its cars to eager U.S. consumers since 2008. But not in Connecticut.

This state is one of more than a dozen that ban automobile manufacturers from selling directly to consumers, requiring instead that new cars be purchased through a licensed dealership. Tesla sells all of its new vehicles directly to consumers, primarily via online ordering, and delivers them through a network of storefronts in states that allow the company’s direct-sales model.

For Connecticut EV enthusiasts, picking up a newly purchased Tesla meant driving across state lines — until now.

On Wednesday, Mohegan Sun announced that Tesla plans to open a “Sales & Delivery Center” at the casino’s mall before the end of this year. Beginning this fall, patrons will be able to buy or pick up new Tesla vehicles at the store, or take the cars for a test drive around the resort grounds. The storefront will sit across from chef Todd English’s restaurant, Tuscany.

The casino’s press release Wednesday described Tesla’s new storefront as “a first-of-its-kind venture” for the state. “Locals and visitors alike will soon have the chance to take home the Model Y, Model 3, Model S and more,” the announcement read.

In response to the news, Hayden Reynolds, chairman of the Connecticut Automotive Retail Association, said, “It is essential to strike a balance between respecting tribal sovereignty and maintaining a level playing field for all car dealerships in Connecticut.” Reynolds said the association respects the tribe’s sovereignty, “but we strongly believe that this does not change the discussion about Tesla and other EV manufacturers with direct-to-consumer sales, and we continue to oppose that model. Connecticut’s dealer franchise laws benefit consumers and provide a competitive marketplace.”

Connecticut is only the latest state where Tesla has employed this strategy to get around a ban on direct sales. Here, as in other states, tribes have the ability to set friendlier policies toward businesses as a way to boost local economic development.

“This endeavor with Tesla marks an electrifying milestone in Mohegan Sun’s commitment to fostering impactful relationships, promoting environmental sustainability and offering cutting-edge experiences for our millions of annual guests,” Mohegan Sun President Jeff Hamilton said in a statement.

Many Connecticut residents have repeatedly called on lawmakers to change statewide policies in favor of EV makers like Tesla, Rivian and Lucid. They say allowing direct sales would bring more electric vehicles to the state, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping to fight climate change.

There’s currently one Tesla showroom in operation in Connecticut, but it only allows leasing.

Last year, advocates pushed for legislation that would have allowed EV makers to sell directly in the state. More than a dozen lawmakers signed on as sponsors of the bill, which drew hours of testimony from electric car enthusiasts, dealership leaders and lawmakers.

Chip Gengras, president of Gengras Motor Cars, pointed out that nearly all car manufacturers already make EVs — they’re becoming a broader part of the slate of cars available, and they’re becoming more affordable. “Connecticut dealers are able and ready to meet the demands of EV consumers,” Gengras said in written testimony. The bill “undermines our state franchise laws by creating an unlevel playing field to sell cars in our state.”

Lori Brown, director of the state League of Conservation Voters, testified in support of the bill. “Legislators can remove arbitrary obstacles and allow the market to expand consumer choice that would get more non-polluting vehicles on the road,” Brown said in written testimony. “These artificial barriers are costing our state time that we don’t have to start slowing down our transportation emissions.”

The bill failed to come up for a vote in either chamber last year, and this year a similar bill didn’t get a hearing before the transportation committee.

So Tesla found another way.

And many of Connecticut’s EV devotees cheered the news. On his website, engineer and EV fan Paul Braren wrote, “This new location signals to Rivian, Lucid, and other new direct-sales EV companies that they may want to consider setting up shop here too. This is a good thing for EV buyers of any brand, and good for EV-related jobs including service, a line of work that is certain to grow immensely.”

This story was originally published by the Connecticut Mirror.

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