A visit by latest Tesla model to Connecticut causes a stir in Milford

Exterior of the new Tesla Model 3, at the 2017 LA Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on November 29, 2017.

Exterior of the new Tesla Model 3, at the 2017 LA Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on November 29, 2017.

It’s not every day that the arrival of a new car model draws a crowd in Connecticut.

It’s even more rare when that crowd is willing to stand outside in sub-freezing temperatures, rather than in a warm showroom, in an effort to get a glimpse of the new car.

But such is the buzz that Tesla Model 3 has created. More than a dozen people turned out Tuesday at the Connecticut Post mall’s electric vehicle charging station to get their first look at the $35,000 sedan. The arrival of the new Model 3 was part of a recharging stop being made by You-You Xue, a San Francisco resident who is in the midst of a cross country trip that is taking him through New England and other parts of the United States and Canada.

“This stop was really important to me because we want to show Connecticut residents what a great new car this is and why legislators here should allow Tesla to sell their cars here,” Xue said. Xue stated that the cross country trip was his idea and that he was not being compensated by Tesla.

The San Carlos, California-based electric car maker’s business model calls for the direct sale of its vehicles to consumers. Connecticut law requires that car be sold through franchised dealerships and Tesla has been trying for three years to get that changed.

Most of the people who turned out in the mall parking lot to see the Model 3 already own Tesla’s themselves. They heard about Xue’s visit via social media.

“I just heard about this a few hours ago,” said Dawn Henry of Westport, whose family owns a Tesla Model X in addition to a pair of BMW electric vehicles.

Henry and her family did a cross country trip of their own in the Tesla Model X.

She said the vehicle’s technological feature allowed them to make the trip without worrying about the SUV’s battery running out of power, a phenomenon known as “range anxiety.” Tesla’s batteries have enough power to allow motorists to travel about 300 miles on a single charge, slightly less in colder weather.

“The navigational system tells how much of a charge you have left, where the nearest charging stations are, how long it will take you to get there and how much battery you will have left when you do,” Henry said. “We’d travel a couple hours, stop for lunch at a place that had charging station, travel for a couple more hours, make a shorter stop to use the rest room and then finish at a hotel that charging station. We stayed at a variety of places, from five-star Four Season Hotel to an Holiday Inn Express.”

Tesla’s high powered “superchargers” are able to recharge the vehicles over a 20 minute period with enough power to travel 170 miles. Home based chargers — those used at hotels, take longer to recharge.

Jon Pinkus of Wallingford bought his Tesla S model used with 37,000 miles on it.

“I show it to people every chance I get because it’s just the wave of the future,” Pinkus said. “It’s just a fun, fast, special kind of car. There’s nothing else like it.”

While Tesla devotees checked out every inch of Xue’s car, company officials announced they will make another attempt to convince Connecticut lawmakers to change the state’s laws governing car sales when the General Assembly begins its 2018 legislative session on Feb. 7.

Will Nicholas, Tesla’s government relations manager, said new direct sales Tesla “stores” would provide the state a financial boost, given Connecticut’s current fiscal woes. Tesla officials have estimated that each store would contribute between $4 million and $5 million to the local economy as well as generate $1.5 million in annual sales tax revenue.

“We see the Connecticut market as one that is underserved in terms of selling electric vehicles,” Nicholas said.

Currently, Tesla’s presence in Connecticut is limited to a gallery in Greenwich, in which the automaker’s vehicles can be displayed, but not sold, and a Milford service center on the Boston Post Road. Nicholas said company officials are currently in negotiations to locate a second service center somewhere between Westport and Stamford.

Even without a retail presence in the state, Tesla officials say their cars account for 64 percent of the 1,381 electric vehicles registered in Connecticut. Company officials are hopingthe more competitively price Model 3 will attract even more consumers at a price that is about half the base price of the company’s other vehicles before state and federal incentives are factored in.

But so far, Tesla’s efforts to get the law changed have been thwarted by the lobbying efforts of a state automotive dealers trade group.

James Fleming, president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailer Association, was not available for comment on Tuesday. But according to a message on its internet site, the organization remains opposed to any change that would accommodate Tesla.

“CARA remains opposed to any legislation providing Tesla Corporation a Loophole from existing pro consumer and pro Connecticut based businesses,” the statement says in part. “Dealers have invested millions in a franchise system and in the physical dealership structures that go into that system under contracts with the manufacturers governed by laws with the state that protects the consumer if something goes wrong with the car, fosters local competition among dealers, and creates a balanced system between national manufacturers and local dealerships. Supporting local dealers means local good paying jobs stay here.”