Direct sales of electric cars in Wyoming would be OK under Case's bill

Feb 15, 2017 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

A bill Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, introduced in the Wyoming Senate this year would make it possible for direct-sale manufacturers to sell cars in Wyoming.

The manufacturers in question include companies including Tesla, which makes what Case described as "very high-end electric vehicles."

In an interview before the legislative session began, he explained that Tesla doesn't sell its vehicles through traditional dealerships.

"They sell directly to folks," he said. "But that's illegal in Wyoming, (so) they can't sell in Wyoming."

He introduced Senate File 57 in an attempt to let companies like Tesla obtain a license to sell cars in the state.

"Whether they would or not, I don't know," Case added. "But it seems like a business-friendly thing to do. ... They use a different model, and our law shouldn't preclude it."

Direct sales

When he introduced SF57 in the Senate on Jan. 31, Case described the direct sale model, which usually involves an online order that prompts the company to build a new vehicle for pick-up by the consumer.

Wyoming buyers currently have to travel out-of-state to collect their direct-sale purchases.

"This is a great way for Wyoming to kind of enter the modern age," Case said. "We're not the first state to do this. There are more than 30 states that now allow this to be done."

The legislation requires direct-sale manufacturers to maintain a physical presence in Wyoming. It also specifies that direct-sale manufacturers only are allowed to be licensed if they haven't offered vehicles in the state previously.

"It doesn't include any type of vehicle currently sold in Wyoming, or that has ever been sold in Wyoming," Case said.

Protecting dealers

The latter provision was designed to keep manufacturers that already operate in the state from closing their dealerships and moving to the direct-sale method to save on overhead costs.

"I've worked very hard to draft this bill so (local dealers) are unaffected," Case said.

Some of his fellow senators were unsure whether he had done enough to safeguard traditional dealers from harm as a result of the legislation, however.

"I've never seen the dealers, truck and automobile dealers, erupt so violently against any bill," Sen. James Anderson, R-Casper, said. "There are all kinds of protection in this bill, (but) they still don't trust that the manufacturers can't come in and strip their franchises out."

For example, he suggested, a manufacturer could go out of business, close its local franchises and start a brand-new, direct-sale company under a different name.

"This is a real issue for these dealers, that their franchises could be disturbed by various manufacturing maneuvers that we probably can't write a bill for," Anderson said. "(I'm) against the start of those maneuvers."

Case said the dealers' concerns are "unfounded." The only impact SF57 would have on current dealers would be an increase in competition from direct-sale manufacturers, he said, and "we are pro-competition."

"People in Wyoming already have these (direct-sale) cars," he continued. "They're probably going to buy more. But this way, the people who service and sell those cars will be Wyoming citizens."

He added an amendment to SF57 on third reading Feb. 2 to ensure that the direct-sale manufacturers would have to both sell and service their vehicles. Some legislators noted that the amendment did not specify that the service would take place within the state, but others pointed out that current dealers don't provide all required services locally, either.

"There are cars that get shipped in and out of this state today with different issues," Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta, said.

SF57 passed the Senate in an 18-12 vote on third reading Feb. 2. Case voted for it, while Senate President Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, voted "no."

"We have a well-tested system in place for our auto dealers," Bebout said in an email to The Ranger explaining the reasoning behind his vote. "It works, and why should we change for one company."

He also noted concerns about warranties and consumer protection.

The legislation was received for introduction in the Wyoming House the next day and was placed on General File on Tuesday.

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