Tesla and New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may be in hot water over who knew what when regarding the bridge lane closures on the George Washington Bridge last September, but it is the latest transportation-related maneuver by his administration that has people protesting from Fort Lee, NJ to Fremont, Calif.

Gov. Christie’s administration expedited a rule proposal this week that would curtail Tesla Motor’s ability to sell directly to customers through its stores.

“Since 2013, Tesla Motors has been working constructively with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC) and members of Governor Christie’s administration to defend against the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers’ (NJ CAR) attacks on Tesla’s business model and the rights of New Jersey consumers. Until yesterday, we were under the impression that all parties were working in good faith,” Tesla wrote on its company blog.

Tesla’s approach to sell directly is critical, the company maintains, because it is selling a new technology. “This model is not just a matter of selling more cars and providing optimum consumer choice for Americans,” the blog states, “but it is also about educating consumers about the benefits of going electric, which is central to our mission to accelerate the shift to sustainable transportation, a new paradigm in automotive technology.”

New Jersey is not the first state to make it difficult for Tesla to operate outside the domain of traditional auto dealerships. A two-month effort to pass bills in the Texas legislature that would allow Tesla Motors to sell electric cars directly to consumers failed last summer after lawmakers failed to vote on the issue before adjourning.

The bills would have created an exemption to the current law that prohibits factory-owned dealerships. The two Tesla-backed bills did not even make it to the floor, which could mean a long wait before Tesla can try again in the Lone Star State, as the legislature will not meet again until 2015. In the meantime, Tesla has devised a complicated work-around in the state.

Tesla has fought and won in other states, with favorable court decisions in Massachusetts and New York, according to Automotive News. The EV upstart has also won a round of court battles in Minnesota.  

Last year, a bill was introduced in North Carolina that would prevent Tesla from selling its luxury vehicles in the state. Instead of unleashing just lawyers, Tesla took its Model S to the state capitol, according to the Charlotte Observer. After Republican House Speaker Thomas Tillis took a spin in the car, his chamber never voted on the bill.

In New Jersey, Tesla won’t have a chance to take lawmakers in Trenton for a test drive to win hearts and minds. Instead of allowing the Proposal PRN 2013-138 to be taken up by the legislature, the Christie administration expedited the law via the NJMVC on Tuesday.

Tesla slammed the move on its blog, noting that the sudden move came after nine months of unexplained delays for a new sales license for Tesla. “This is an issue that affects not just Tesla customers,” Tesla writes, “but also New Jersey citizens at large, because Tesla would be unable to create new jobs or participate in New Jersey’s economic revival.”

The new ruling will require Tesla to use third-party dealerships, which all of the companies Tesla competes against use. The change will essentially mean that Tesla has to stop selling cars at its current dealerships in the state starting on April 1.

The effort by car dealerships to shut down Tesla could be just the first of many battles that the disruptive technology company faces as it expands beyond the domain of luxury vehicles. Its planned Giga factory will also likely bring more pushback from incumbent carmakers of all stripes, and maybe even traditional power generators, as the lower cost of energy storage could take more people off-grid.

For now, deep-pocketed New Jerseyans will have to head over to New York or Pennsylvania to score a coveted Model S. And not all dealerships in the Garden State are cheering the move by Christie to give Tesla the boot. At least one dealer is hoping that Tesla will want to start using dealerships, starting with his, according to this tweet:

Photo Credit: New Jersey and Tesla/shutterstock

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