UNCASVILLE – Tesla is opening a sales and showroom at Mohegan Sun, setting up shop on the Mohegan Tribe’s sovereign land to sidestep a Connecticut law preventing direct-to-consumer auto sales.
The Tesla Sales and Delivery Center will open this fall at The Shops at Mohegan Sun, in a first-floor storefront formerly occupied by a Victoria’s Secret store, the casino announced on Wednesday.
Customers will be able to see and buy Tesla vehicles at the casino storefront. And the cars will be delivered at Mohegan Sun’s Sky Tower valet.
“This endeavor with Tesla marks an electrifying milestone in Mohegan Sun’s commitment to fostering impactful relationships, promoting environmental sustainability and offering cutting-edge experiences for our millions of annual guests, each of which are core goals of Mohegan Sun and the Mohegan Tribe,” Mohegan Sun President and General Manager Jeff Hamilton said in a news release.
In its release, Mohegan Sun touted the storefront as a “first-of-its-kind venture in Connecticut with the premiere Sales & Delivery center operating on Sovereign Tribal land.”
Tesla has been lobbying unsuccessfully for years to get Connecticut lawmakers to legalize direct-to-consumer sales of its electric vehicles. Electric-only vehicle manufacturers including Rivian and Tesla have used a direct sales model instead of the dealership model of other auto companies.
The annual “Tesla bill” regularly faces opposition from Connecticut’s car dealers who argue that the carve-out would give electric manufacturers an unfair advantage in the market.
The co-chairs of the legislature’s Transportation Committee State Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, and State Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, were generally supportive of the move in comments to CT Examiner.
“It’s certainly innovative on the part of both Tesla and the Tribe to come up with a solution that will bring their cars to market in Connecticut and allow them to distribute here,” Cohen said. “I think in looking at other states where Tesla is able to sell directly, there has been the ability for both the dealership model and direct sales to co-exist with each other.”
Lemar, who has been a major advocate for the “Tesla bill,” said he heard from a Tesla representative in Connecticut a few months ago that they were negotiating to potentially open a location at Mohegan Sun, but the announcement came faster than he expected.
He said he wouldn’t consider it a workaround to the state law – the Mohegan Tribe is sovereign and Connecticut can’t tell it how Tesla should sell cars on their own land. But he said it will be interesting to see if direct sales at Mohegan Sun changes any legislator’s minds about the Tesla bill going forward.
“It’s not surprising that Tesla would seek to find another way to provide their cars to Connecticut consumers, now it’ll be interesting whether or not the state as a whole wants to be involved with coming up with a solution, because there are other manufacturers out there looking to sell their cars to Connecticut consumers,” Lemar said. “Are we going to amend our model, or are Rivian and Lucid and other manufacturers going to go to Mashantucket?”
Hayden Reynolds, chairman of the Connecticut Automotive Retail Association, which has opposed the Tesla bill, said in a statement to CT Examiner that it’s important to balance a respect for tribal sovereignty and the need to keep a “level playing field” for car dealerships in Connecticut.
“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,” Reynolds said. “Connecticut’s dealer franchise laws benefit consumers and provide a competitive marketplace.”
In June, the Oneida Indian Nation in New York announced it was partnering with Tesla to set up a similar showroom on Nation lands off the New York State Thruway. The partnership allowed Tesla to bypass a 2014 New York ban on direct sales.
The announcement came the same day that Gov. Ned Lamont announced that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will be starting the process of adopting California emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which will require all vehicles sold in the state by 2035 to be electric.
The standards are part of the Clean Air Act passed by state lawmakers in 2022, adopting California’s standards to phase out passenger cars with combustion engines.
“It’s really clear that the market is shifting us towards electric vehicles in light of climate change, so that we can breathe easier and do what we can to mitigate the impacts of climate change,” Cohen said. “We want to see as many people getting into electric vehicles as possible – we’re offering new rebates and incentives for businesses to switch over as well – so I see this partnership between Tesla and Mohegan as welcome news.”
In a statement, House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, warned that Democrats were using scare tactics to force through the elimination of gas-powered vehicles by 2035. He urged residents to oppose DEEP’s proposal for new regulations.
“Promoting government-backed rebates, vouchers, and incentives, they continue to mask the issue of affordability of these vehicles while also downplaying the titanic effort to build out our charging infrastructure,” Candelora said.
Tesla could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
This story has been updated to include comments from the Connecticut Automotive Retail Association