Capitol Alert

Lawmaker hopes to lure Tesla buyers for visits with tax exemption

People check out the Model S at the Tesla showroom on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica on Jan. 3, 2015.
People check out the Model S at the Tesla showroom on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica on Jan. 3, 2015. The Associated Press

Ever brought home a $100,000 souvenir from your vacation? California may soon be making the pitch to prospective visitors.

Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, is pursuing a bill that would eliminate the sales tax on new automobiles manufactured in California for out-of-state buyers. His goal is to spur a business of “industrial tourism,” attracting customers who come for the car and stay to see the sites.

A small group of electric vehicle companies fall under the provisions of Senate Bill 680 – primarily Tesla, which is in Wieckowski’s district and sponsored the legislation.

Wieckowski says it’s not a handout to Tesla, which already ships tens of thousands of its vehicles each year to customers outside California that only pay registration fees and sales taxes in their home states. Rather, he hopes that, price being equal, those people may feel drawn to come pick up their new rides in person, as some luxury automobile buyers do in Europe.

“We think that California is an attraction. We think that people want to go down to a Tesla factory to see it,” Wieckowski said. “The government can be an incubator for these ideas.”

California’s tax code includes more than $50 billion in various tax credits, exemptions and other breaks. In 2014, California lawmakers tried to put together a package of tax perks and regulatory changes to woo a proposed Tesla battery plant to California. Tesla ultimately decided to put the so-called gigafactory project in Nevada.

Under Wieckowski’s bill, Tesla would have three years to make a success of this grand experiment, which is set to expire in 2020. SB 680 passed out of the Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 33-2 and now heads to the Assembly.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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