Recently, there has been a battle for EV sales freedom in many states. Connecticut is one such battleground and its bill, SB 127, would allow EV manufacturers such as Tesla and Rivian to sell directly to consumers in Connecticut. We know that dealerships are pushing hard at preventing this bill from being made into law.
One key advocate for this bill, The EV Club of Connecticut, noticed that Plug-In America (PIA) seemed to have unplugged from supporting the bill. (Read on for PIA’s statement to CleanTechnica). The EV Club of CT shared a blog post about PIA’s actions while noting that PIA initially played an important advocacy role in the effort to pass SB 127 in Connecticut and other similar direct sales laws in other states. The article pointed out that PIA acted as a clearinghouse for a lot of information from economists, academics, and others that supported the arguments for EV sales freedom. PIA also coordinated between numerous involved parties, manufacturers, environmental organizations, and even lobbyists. That has changed.
The blog pointed out that the coordinated Zoom meetings have come to a complete stop and all of the content has been removed from the PIA website. There are still copies of some of the content and the EV Club has created a special section of its website to keep it posted — mostly content related to SB-127.
The EV Club of CT also pointed out that PIA has a program called PlugStar, which is a training program to help dealerships become more effective at selling EVs. This program is funded by dealers and the article noted that it’s a meaningful revenue stream for PIA. The club also noted in its post that dealers threatened to terminate their funding of PlugStar unless PIA stopped supporting direct sales.
“The board of PIA has caved and directed that the ongoing advocacy efforts in this area cease. This is not just a CT thing.”
The EV Club of CT also writes: “Those of us in the EV community were gobsmacked by this ‘pulling the rug out from under’ move at a critical time. And we’re surprised the organization doesn’t have bylaws in place to provide separation and deal with what seems an obvious potential for conflict. We blame PIA for compromising their principles, but, of course, it was the dealers that put them in this position. They show their colors that competition is good for everyone except themselves.”
You can read the full article from The EV Club of Connecticut for more from them.
Plug In America’s Response
I reached out to PIA through email and asked them to share their thoughts about The EV Club of CT’s post and why they pulled out. A spokesperson wrote back with the following statement from the organization:
“As noted in the blog by the EV Club of Connecticut, we were involved in their advocacy efforts around direct sales but decided to step back from that work and not take sides in specific sales channel disputes between manufacturers and dealers in order to focus on other programs that advance our core mission of accelerating EV sales.
“In particular, our PlugStar program is nationally recognized for its success in training auto dealers and helping them to be more successful in selling EVs. This is an important program that is responsible for thousands of additional EV sales. But it is hard for us to carry out this program when we are in the middle of a dispute between dealers and manufacturers — especially one that is somewhat tangential to our main work. However, counter to what the EV Club suggests, for most participating dealers, it is a free service provided by Plug In America and funded by utilities, government, and contributions from individual PIA contributors.”
EV Supporters Feel Betrayed
I’ve had a few supporters of the bill share with me that they felt betrayed by PIA’s move. From a business perspective, I think I understand why PIA made that move — they want dealers to sell EVs. However, supporting something strongly and then seemingly changing your stance on that topic by suddenly going neutral, especially when the battle is getting more intense, feels like a betrayal to some.
William Cross, Director of Communications at Tesla Owners CT, emphasized how that PIA was a big part of their effort to get direct sales legalized or keep them legalized (depending on the state). “They were a big advocate. They ran our weekly meetings and had an entire sub-site published to battle direct sales,” he explained.
“PIA’s mission says they are the voice of the EV drivers, but they’ve gone dark on direct sales advocacy including taking down the sub-site. We’re dumbfounded about a leading advocate of direct sales essentially erasing themselves from the process and I imagine all their stakeholders and donors are all wondering what happened. It was like flipping a light switch off,” Analiese Paik said.
“This is not exactly a profile in courage. They claim to be the voice of plug-in drivers and EV advocates. Their constituents support direct sales. In fact, most people do. 83% in a poll in CT are in favor of the direct sales bill currently before the legislature. I don’t think they chose to be in this position, but they have let us down. And they should take steps to prevent its happening again,” Barry Kresch, President of EV Club of CT, added.
An anonymous source also told me, “We’ve been trying to call out the dealers more and more, so feel free to name-drop Gengras, Hoffman, BMW of Bridgeport, etc. They’ve publicly testified against us. They are the true enemy.”
Editor’s note: I could not initially believe that Plug In America made this complete shift on this topic and even erased all the information they had published on it. I presumed there must be a misunderstanding or something else going on. So, I directed Johnna to be sure to get a response from PIA before finishing this piece. I am shocked to see this “evolution” in PIA’s advocacy and hope they will reconsider and turn back to true EV advocacy. Pushing for legalized direct sales is simply pro–free market and pro–common sense. Of course, PIA execs and managers know this. —Zach Shahan
I have plenty of thoughts on this. Seeing an ally for EVs suddenly shift focus from supporting the direct sales of EVs to going neutral is alarming. Yes, we need all of our allies and I hope that PIA will have an impact on dealerships and help them actually sell EVs. If this is their new main goal, they have a long road ahead — I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of how someone went to a dealership to buy an EV and the salesperson pressured them into buying a gas or diesel vehicle, or tried to, or even made fun of them for wanting an EV.
So, if PIA is going this route, I think it needs to educate dealerships on the importance of EVs and explain well how EVs can be even more financially sensible for the consumer than fossil-fuel vehicles. Considering that dealerships make their money from not just the sales of vehicles, but servicing them, PIA has a hard road ahead of it. Direct sales of EVs cut out the middleman and this is why dealerships are fighting so hard against them.
I also think that PIA should consider the ramifications of withdrawing its support on hot issues such as the right for EV manufacturers to sell directly to their customers in states that currently don’t allow them to. With many donors supporting PIA, a nonprofit, this could be seen as a betrayal to some and prove to be a painful lesson. If so, let’s hope that PIA will learn, grow, and move forward while continuing to support the adoption of electric vehicles. Our very air depends on driving clean vehicles.
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