It is much harder to buy a Tesla (or Rivian, Lucid or other directly sold vehicle) if you live in CT than in most of the country.
If you live in CT and want to buy a Tesla, it is more of a challenge because Tesla is not legally permitted to open stores in the state. CT shares this dubious honor with a minority of other states.
Dealership Franchise Laws
The reason for this state of affairs is what is known as the dealer franchise laws, all of them written many years ago.
When the legacy automobile companies wanted to expand their businesses, the method of choice was to have independent businesses retail and service their vehicles. These business people were concerned, with reason, that should they succeed in building a market locally, that the manufacturer with which they had affiliated, would open stores themselves and put them out of business. In other words, these franchise laws came about to protect dealerships from their affiliated manufacturers.
The legacy auto companies have yet to get serious traction with their EVs. Tesla outsells all other EVs combined. There are several reasons for this, two of which are that many dealers don’t want to sell them, and many manufacturers have not made a serious effort to market them. The Sierra Club, in its most recent (2019) EV Shopper Study, found that 74% of auto dealers nationally did not have a single EV on their lot. The EV Club of CT was asked by the Sierra Club to do dealership visits in CT. These people reported that the 74% figure understates the true nature of the problem. In many cases, even if the dealership had EVs on the lot, the salesperson would try to switch pitch them to an ICE vehicle or was simply not well-informed. Among dealerships visited, the Sierra Club found zero 5-star dealerships in CT.
Tesla’s business model is to sell directly to consumers. They own their own stores and service centers. The franchise laws state that a seller has to be an independent business and so the dealership lobby has essentially used them as protectionism.
Tesla has been permitted to open a single service center in CT, located in Milford. They have augmented the single location with mobile servicing units (i.e. the technician comes to you) and the fact that some issues can be solved with software updates, and those are pushed wirelessly. Added to that is that EVs need far less servicing than ICE vehicles and having only a single service center and no stores have not prevented Tesla from being the most widely registered EV marque in the state.
Tesla seeks to open a second, badly needed, service center. The dealerships have been using the franchise laws as a pretext to file lawsuits against cities that grant a permit. They have thus far succeeded in blocking a second service center.
When the franchise laws were written, nobody leased cars, and so those laws don’t specifically address leasing. Tesla has obtained a leasing license in CT. This is a fairly recent development (December 2019). It was hung up for a while due to the politics, but it is in force and the company is leasing vehicles from its service facility in Milford. Test drives are permitted.
The laws prohibiting sales also prohibit delivery. This applies even if you lease a vehicle in Milford. If you live in the eastern or northern part of the state, Tesla stores in MA or RI are NOT a delivery option (different state laws). A pickup in Mt. Kisco is necessary.
Rivian is in the process of trying to open a service center in Shelton at which they would deliver vehicles. This is currently blocked due to a dealership lawsuit.
Tesla has a showroom in Greenwich, CT. It had previously been the target of lawsuits and Tesla had closed it for a period of time, but it is currently open. Tesla employees are not allowed to discuss pricing or do other things that can be considered “sales.” They can answer questions about the vehicles.
As noted, Tesla is no longer alone in selling direct. New startups Rivian and Lucid have opted for direct sales, which can provide a more curated experience. Like Tesla, they are not allowed to open stores in CT. Others are expected to follow suit, including B to B sellers such as Arrival. And direct sale/lease is not the only new flavor coming online. There are pilots underway for subscription services, for both EVs and ICE, such as Borrow (EVs), Access (BMW), and others. As you can see, some are owned by OEMs and others by third parties. The point is that the world is changing. EVs are part of that, but technology writ large is the major reason.
Buying a Tesla
Tesla has been fortunate in that it has very high customer satisfaction. Many test drives are of the informal variety, where an owner lets a friend take it for a spin. For people interested in buying a Tesla, they need to configure the car online or visit an out-of-state store. The nearest stores to CT are in Mt. Kisco, NY, and Warwick, RI. There are also occasional ride and drive events in the state in which Tesla participates.
Tesla also offers a return policy. If you are unhappy with your vehicle, it can be returned within 7 calendar days. The vehicle must have been driven under 1,000 miles.
The EV Club has many Tesla owners and anyone who may be interested is encouraged to reach out to us via the contact form on this website for further information.
What Else You Can Do
Even with a service center and an enthusiastic clientele, the lack of stores still adds friction to the purchase process. Tesla has advised us that sales are higher in areas where they have stores. You can help! Write, email, or call your elected state senator and representative to tell them you support direct sales for Tesla and other EV manufacturers. The only way to counter a well-funded and organized dealer lobby is with voters making their voices heard. If you do not know who your representatives are, you can locate them by going to https://www.cga.ct.gov/. Click on Representation (located at the top left side of the home page) and click on “Find Your Legislator”. Enter your town, street name, and street number and click to see a list of names. Click on the name and you will get to their individual web page.