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Christie Puts Blame on N.J. Lawmakers for Tesla Sales Ban

Robert Hackett, right, and Barbara Hackett look inside a Tesla Motors Inc. Model S at the company's store at the Short Hills Mall in Short Hills, New Jersey, on March 12, 2014. Photographer: Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg
Robert Hackett, right, and Barbara Hackett look inside a Tesla Motors Inc. Model S at the company's store at the Short Hills Mall in Short Hills, New Jersey, on March 12, 2014. Photographer: Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg

March 19 (Bloomberg) -- Governor Chris Christie said New Jersey lawmakers were to blame for a law that bars Tesla Motors Inc. from selling its electric cars directly to consumers.

New Jersey’s eight-member Motor Vehicle Commission, made up of members of Christie’s cabinet and others appointed by the Republican governor, voted unanimously March 11 to block Tesla from direct sales.

The Palo Alto, California-based automaker is battling car dealers state by state who want sales to go through them. Dealers in Ohio, New York, Minnesota, Georgia and elsewhere have argued that independent retailers are better for shoppers and vehicle owners. Texas dealers successfully backed a law setting the nation’s toughest restrictions on Tesla. Arizona, Colorado and Virginia also imposed limits.

Christie, 51, who encourages businesses to move to New Jersey to help revive its economy, said he didn’t push Tesla out. Instead, he said, “The state legislature did” by prohibiting Tesla’s business model.

“Tesla was operating outside the law,” Christie said yesterday at a town hall meeting in South River. “I have no problem with Tesla selling directly to customers, except it’s against the law in New Jersey.”

Silent Selling

Elizabeth Jarvis-Shean, a Tesla spokeswoman, referred in an e-mail to remarks by Elon Musk, the company’s founder and chairman, on March 14. Musk, writing on the company website, said its two New Jersey stores, in Paramus and Short Hills, will become “galleries” where staff can answer questions, though “we will not be able to discuss price or complete a sale.”

He directed potential buyers to locations in Manhattan and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

The New Jersey panel voted unanimously to require that all new vehicle sales go through franchised retail dealers. Christie said his administration had tried to work with the company.

“What they were asking for was an exception from the law,” he said.

Tesla should deal with the legislature, the governor said.

The company’s shares rose 2.6 percent to $240.04 yesterday in New York. They have risen 60 percent this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elise Young in Trenton at eyoung30@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net Stacie Sherman, Pete Young

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