The electric car company Tesla wants Connecticut to change its laws so it can sell cars here without meeting the same consumer protection requirements all other car dealers must follow. This would be great for Tesla, but bad for you if you choose to buy one of Tesla’s cars.
Connecticut lawmakers should reject this move by Tesla to change the law and recognize it for what it is. It is an attempt by the owner of the company to tilt the playing field in favor of Tesla in advance of the day when most major car companies will be selling mostly electric vehicles.
In the past few months several major car brands, including General Motors and Volkswagen, have announced plans to move toward an all-electric line-up of cars in the coming years. If Tesla succeeds in changing Connecticut law to its advantage now, the company will have succeeded in setting up an unfair marketplace for decades to come. That is not only bad for the car industry, and the thousands of people who make their living in the car business in Connecticut, but it will be worse for car owners.
Tesla does not want to operate in Connecticut using the existing dealership model. It says it is an old-fashioned system and is not relevant to Tesla’s product. But of course, that’s not true. Tesla sells cars. It doesn’t matter how those cars are fueled, be it gas or electricity.
Connecticut car dealership laws have been developed over decades in an effort to protect the rights of consumers. We have the first law in the nation specifically set up to protect car buyers when they purchase a vehicle that turns out to be a lemon. It’s called the Lemon Law. Car dealers in Connecticut must provide clear and comprehensive warranties, fair lending practices, prompt servicing of vehicles subject to recall and adherence to all state and federal safety standards. Tesla wants a free pass in these areas, and anyone can see why this is bad for consumers.
But when you think about it — what’s the real angle here? What is Tesla really after? The answer is obvious and it boils down to money. Tesla is trying to set itself up to dominate the market by changing the law in its favor in advance of that point in time, in the near future, when all car dealerships will be selling mostly electric cars. That would be a neat trick, if Tesla could pull it off.
Tesla is a young car company and it has faced its share of challenges when living up to the expectations of its customers. If any car buyer should be entitled to the safety and quality requirements of Connecticut dealership laws, it should be the owner of a Tesla. Tesla owners have lodged their share of complaints against the company and chief among them is a lack of responsiveness.
Good corporate citizenship means paying attention to the needs of the community. It means there are times when the greater good is more important than the bottom line. But Tesla, in ways big and small, has demonstrated that as a company, winning is more important.
Tesla is asking for changes in the law, in part, because its electric vehicles are good for the environment. But if electric cars are good for the environment why does Tesla refuse to build charging stations, within its network, capable of charging all electric vehicles, not just Tesla vehicles? Connecticut car dealers are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in charging stations that can charge all electric cars, because it is the right thing to do. It is not the exclusive charging network Tesla invests in that only accommodates Tesla drivers. If Tesla wanted to drive environmental changes, they would not have proprietary chargers. A charging network for all makes and models is the best way to promote more electric vehicle ownership and improve air quality.
Connecticut car dealers are not against Tesla selling its vehicles in Connecticut. New products are good for the business and good for consumers, but all car dealers should play under the same rules. That too, is good for business and more importantly, it is good for the customer.
Tod Moynihan is owner of Meriden Hyundai. John Orsini is owner of Executive Auto Group in Hartford, Wallingford, Berlin and North Haven.