Electric-car manufacturer Tesla would be able to sell its vehicles directly to customers in Wisconsin under a bill unveiled Wednesday that brought current Tesla owners to the Capitol in a show of support.
About 60 Tesla owners offered rides in their vehicles outside the Capitol as part of the push for the Republican-authored bill. The proposal's sponsors said it only makes sense to have Wisconsin join 23 other states in allowing Tesla to open its own stores to sell and service its high-end electric vehicles.
There's no reason that Wisconsin's roughly 500 Tesla owners should have to take their vehicles to Illinois to get their vehicles serviced, said co-sponsor Rep. Rob Brooks, R-Saukville.
A Tesla lobbyist said the company has not determined how many stores it may open should the law be changed, but each would be at least a $1 million investment and employ at least 25 people. In material supporting the bill, Tesla called the current law "outdated and anti-business."
The bill offers a unique opportunity to embrace innovation by an American company, Brooks said. Co-sponsor Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Brookfield, said it was about giving consumers more choice and helping foster competition in the free market.
Wisconsin law prohibits automakers from operating or controlling a car dealership. Kapenga said by granting an exemption only for electric vehicle manufacturers — Tesla — it protects traditional dealerships from competition from gasoline-powered automakers.
"This is not a threat to traditional dealers," Brooks said.
The bill was being circulated for co-sponsors and will be officially introduced later. Brooks said he had not spoken with Gov. Scott Walker yet to gauge his interest.
"The governor has never stood in the way of innovation," Brooks said. "I can't see him standing in the way of this."
Walker's spokesman Tom Evenson was noncommittal, saying Walker would review the bill should it pass.
Given that the Legislature isn't scheduled to meet again this year after next week, the soonest the measure could pass is likely early in 2018. The bill must clear both the Senate and Assembly, and be signed by Walker, before taking effect.