Tension over direct sales emerged this spring in Vermont during debate over a bill that allows "non-franchised zero-emission vehicle manufacturers" to sell their models directly to consumers. The governor signed the bill last week.
The Vermont Vehicle and Automotive Distributors Association said it supported the bill as a compromise, though reluctantly, on the understanding that lawmakers had enough votes to pass it.
Marilyn Miller, the association's executive director, said legislators had asked whether dealers wanted certain language added to the bill to support it. The group requested a provision clarifying that automakers that do not qualify to sell directly as ZEV manufacturers under the bill can't compete with a Vermont new-car dealer.
Wayne Weikel, senior director of state affairs for the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents several major automakers, testified in April that the group wants all new EV manufacturers to compete under the same franchise system. Yet the dealer association's choice not to oppose the bill prompted the alliance to also ask that all automakers be allowed to sell directly to consumers.
"This is not a position that we have taken in any other state, any other place," Weikel told lawmakers.
"Our members just got to a point of, 'Well, if the dealers aren't going to stand up to defend the franchise system, why are we?' " he testified. "Tesla's not a competitor of the dealer association. Tesla's a competitor of Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti and Ford and GM and all of our members. And this is a considerable advantage that they get."
To Miller, the compromise mitigated a policy that otherwise would have been worse for dealers.
"I really think, once this all calms down and shakes out, we're going to be fine because there are so many fabulous electric vehicles that are coming out on the market by the OEMs, and that's a good thing," she said. "Our message just needs to be together, and it needs to be supportive of each other and have confidence in the franchise system. Which we do."