Tesla’s 1st electric pickup has rolled off the assembly line: Tesla is stepping up its efforts to create stores on tribal territories where it may sell directly to people, avoiding state restrictions that prohibit vehicle manufacturers from also being merchants in favor of the dealership model.
Mohegan Sun, a Connecticut casino and entertainment complex owned by the federally recognized Mohegan Tribe, recently announced that the California-based electric automaker will open a showroom with a sales and delivery center on its sovereign property this autumn, where state law does not apply.
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The announcement comes after another new Tesla showroom, set to debut in 2025 on the territory of the Oneida Indian Nation in upstate New York, was revealed in June.
“I think it was a move that made complete sense,” said Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, which has pushed for years to amend Connecticut’s statute.
“It’s just surprising that it took this long because Tesla had really tried, along with Lucid and Rivian,” she remarked, referring to two other electric carmakers. “Anything that puts more electric vehicles on the road is good for the public.”
Brown highlighted that lawmakers with operating vehicle dealerships in their districts, regardless of party affiliation, have typically opposed laws permitting direct-to-consumer sales.
The Connecticut Automotive Retail Association, which has long opposed such legislation, believes that a balance must be struck between recognizing tribal sovereignty and “maintaining a level playing field” for all vehicle dealerships in the state.
“We respect the Mohegan Tribe’s sovereignty and the unique circumstance in which they operate their businesses on Tribal land, 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,” said the association’s chairperson, Hayden Reynolds. “Connecticut’s dealer franchise laws benefit consumers and provide a competitive marketplace.”
Tesla opens showrooms:
Tesla sought and was denied dealership licenses in various states over the years, campaigned for legislative reforms, and fought judicial judgments. Earlier this year, the Delaware Supreme Court overturned a finding that upheld a decision by state officials to restrict Tesla from selling directly to customers.
According to Jeff Aiosa, executive director of the Connecticut Dealers Association, at least 16 states essentially modified their rules to allow Tesla and other direct-to-consumer manufacturers to sell there. He sees no need for Connecticut to change its rule, noting that 32 “original equipment manufacturers,” including Toyota, Ford, and other major automakers, now follow it.
It’s not fair to have an uneven playing field when all other manufacturers follow state franchise regulations, and Tesla seeks this exception to skirt the law’, he added. “I believe their pivot to the sovereign nation reflects their unwillingness to follow the law.”
In 2021, Tesla launched its first retail and service center on Native American land in New Mexico. The Nambé Pueblo complex, north of Santa Fe, was the first time the business collaborated with a tribe to circumvent state rules, though the idea had been in the works for years.
Brian Dear, president of the Tesla Owners Club of New Mexico, stated at the time that states with tribal nations and laws prohibiting manufacturers from selling directly to consumers would likely follow New Mexico’s approach.