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Lawmakers Look to Short-Circuit Ban on Sales of Tesla Electric Vehicles

New legislation would allow Tesla to sell directly to customers, rather than going through franchised dealerships

Timothy Eustace
Credit: NJTV
Democratic Assemblyman Timothy Eustace.

When his administration adopted a rule that could force a high-priced electric car dealer out of New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie blamed it on the Legislature, saying he was only enforcing a law enacted by that body.

Now, lawmakers are seeking to rectify that situation, introducing a new bill (A-2986) that would change the law to allow electric car manufacturers to sell their vehicles without going through franchised retail dealers.

The rule, adopted earlier this month by the state Motor Vehicle Commission, which is made up of Christie administration cabinet members and appointees, triggered an outburst of criticism from both the left and right as an unwarranted intrusion into the free market.

“The governor talks a big game about attracting innovative businesses to the state, but this move does the exact opposite,’’ said Assemblyman Timothy Eustace (D-Bergen), the sponsor of the bill.

“As criticism has mounted, the governor has tried to point the finger at the Legislature, but no one’s buying it," said Eustace. "We need to attract companies that will create jobs and promote economic growth. If the governor is unwilling, then the Legislature will get it done."

Sen. Shirley Turner also introduced an identical bill (S-1898) yesterday in the Senate. “We should be attracting a new industry like electric cars to New Jersey and supporting consumers who are looking for environmentally friendly vehicles, not standing in their way and sending them to other states to spend their money,’’ Turner said.

The dispute revolves around Tesla Motors Inc., a well-regarded manufacturer of electric vehicles that can cost up to $100,000 each. It has two stores -- one in the Mall at Short Hills and the other at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus --where consumers can buy the cars directly without going through a dealership. The new rule would ban the company from selling in those stores, a move company executives said would force them out of the state as early as next month.

Christie, however, has defended his administration’s action at a recent town hall meeting in South River. “I’m not pushing Tesla out. The Legislature did,’’ he told a questioner when asked about the issue.

Critics disputed that assertion. “The governor is playing his entire blame game,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “Clearly, the fault lies with Gov. Chris Christie for pulling the plug on Tesla in New Jersey.’’

The new regulation was backed by the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers and is similar to bans on selling electric vehicles now in place at independent retailers in Texas and Arizona.

In protesting the rule prior to its adoption, Tesla executives said the company wants to sell its electric cars directly to consumers, a model it claims is necessary to educate buyers about the benefit of its vehicles. Tesla did not respond to a call for comment on the new legislation.

The simmering dispute occurs at a time when clean energy advocates and many lawmakers have been frustrated with efforts to promote the use of electric vehicles, which contribute less pollution causing global climate change. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change in New Jersey.

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