Rivian lobbying Colorado lawmakers to open up dealer franchise law

Largely overlooked in the coverage of electric vehicle startup Rivian since its debutante ball at the 2018 LA Auto Show is how the company plans to actually get its products into the hands of consumers. Any why not, when we can ogle over the vehicles’ performance specs, the leasing of its skateboard platform to the likes of Lincoln and its plans to build battery-electric Prime delivery vans for Amazon.

We’ve known all along that Rivian’s plan was to follow the likes of Tesla and adopt a direct sales model, bypassing the need to establish a costly and time-consuming nationwide dealer network. Now the company is putting the pedal to the metal: Automotive News reports (subscription required) that Rivian is lobbying state lawmakers in Colorado, who could vote as soon as this week on a bill to open up its dealer-franchise law by allowing any electric vehicle company to sell directly to consumers.

The legislation, Senate Bill 20-167, would make an exemption to existing dealer franchise law by allowing electric vehicle manufacturers to operate its own stores. The bill last week passed out of a Senate committee by a 3-2 vote. An amendment since added would prevent traditional automakers from opening a store next to their franchised dealers.

Colorado has previously opened up direct sales to only Tesla, which opened its first store in the state in Boulder in 2009 and now operates four in the state. “I am of the opinion that we should have that option available to any EV manufacturer,” Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat who cosponsored the bill, told the Colorado Sun. “Right now, Tesla has that ability, and I don’t see any reason why there shouldn’t be market access for any other manufacturer.”

The bill reportedly enjoys bipartisan support including Democratic Gov. Jared Polis and organizations like the Colorado Energy Office. But the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association says it would open the door to direct sales by any automaker that happens to sell an EV and herald competition between automakers and dealers. What’s more, it claims that existing state law already allows manufacturers to operate their own dealerships if they don’t already have any dealers selling their products in the state.

Rivian has held several preview events in Colorado mountain towns and is actively marketing its R1S SUV and R1T truck to the outdoors adventure set. The company has also been active lobbying for a similar measure in Washington, though that bill is presumed dead for now. RIvian’s chief lobbyist has reportedly said the company has received a dealer license in Arizona and is seeking licenses in Illinois, Massachusetts, California and Florida.

If the experience of Tesla is anything to go by, this is likely just the start of what could be a long road for Rivian to build its own stores in states that offer a patchwork of different laws governing dealerships and the sale of automobiles. The company has previously said it will try to find partners who can sell in markets like Texas, which bars direct sales but offers a vast market of truck and off-road enthusiasts as potential customers.

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