The manufacturers are lobbying hard against the legislation. Some of the strongest changes have passed or been proposed in Ohio, Colorado, Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky.
Doran of the Ohio dealers group said that state's proposed legislation isn't "plowing any virgin territory," but the comprehensive bill is the most thorough rewrite since Ohio passed its dealership franchise law 30 years ago.
The scope of the proposal is likely "the source of irritation with some of the manufacturers," Doran said.
In Colorado, the franchise bill originally gave rejected dealers the right of first refusal for 10 years. That means if a factory wishes to return to a market, it has to offer the franchise to the former dealer.
Ultimately, the Legislature passed a compromise limiting the right of first refusal to five years.
"I think the manufacturers are holding their noses," said Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association.
GM opposed the bill with a $60,000 advertising campaign.
The 2009 federal law giving rejected dealers the ability to challenge their terminations in arbitration makes radical state legislation unnecessary, said GM spokesman Greg Martin.
"There is no shortage of outrageous bills, and we need to speak out," said Martin. "We didn't go through a painful and necessary restructuring and work with the U.S. Congress to be responsible to dealer concerns, only to suffer a death of a thousand cuts at the state level."
Chrysler filed a federal lawsuit challenging laws in four states: Illinois, Maine, North Carolina and Oregon. The case is pending before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
"Chrysler has agreed to arbitrate individual dealer cases pursuant to a federal statute enacted in December," spokeswoman Eileen Wunderlich wrote in an e-mail. "We see that process as the appropriate course and do not support state-by-state legislation."
Some dealer lobbyists recognized that the legislation could be tested but still forged ahead.
"We knew we were on the cutting edge, but we did the right thing," said Robert Glaser, president of the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association. "Someone had to stand up for the dealers."