Epic battle between Tesla and Chris Christie ends in defeat for the electric car company

The company attacked the N.J. governor on Twitter after he pushed "anti-Tesla" legislation

Published March 11, 2014 8:09PM (EDT)

AP Photo/Mel Evans
AP Photo/Mel Evans

A heated battle between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Tesla Motors has ended in defeat for the electric car company. CNBC reports that the state Motor Vehicle Commission voted Tuesday to ban auto manufacturers from selling their cars directly to consumers, requiring them to go through dealers instead.

Tesla, which uses the direct model, is up in arms about what it calls the "anti-Tesla" legislation -- so-called because no other car company operates this way. Similar measures have already passed in Texas and Arizona; residents of all three will now have to travel of out of state to purchase Teslas.

Claiming that the Christie administration had "gone back on its word" in pushing the proposal, Tesla launched a preemptive Twitter attack earlier Tuesday:

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The administration, for its part, contends that Tesla is the one attempting to get special treatment. “Since Tesla first began operating in New Jersey one year ago, it was made clear that the company would need to engage the legislature on a bill to establish their new direct-sales operations under New Jersey law,” said Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts. “This administration does not find it appropriate to unilaterally change the way cars are sold in New Jersey without legislation and Tesla has been aware of this position from the beginning.”

In a blog post, however, the company called the proposal "an affront to the very concept of a free market,” not to mention a direct attack against sustainable automotive technology:

Unfortunately, Monday we received news that Governor Christie’s administration has gone back on its word to delay a proposed anti-Tesla regulation so that the matter could be handled through a fair process in the Legislature. The Administration has decided to go outside the legislative process by expediting a rule proposal that would completely change the law in New Jersey. This new rule, if adopted, would curtail Tesla’s sales operations and jeopardize our existing retail licenses in the state. Having previously issued two dealer licenses to Tesla, this regulation would be a complete reversal to the long standing position of NJMVC on Tesla’s stores. Indeed, the Administration and the NJMVC are thwarting the Legislature and going beyond their authority to implement the state’s laws at the behest of a special interest group looking to protect its monopoly at the expense of New Jersey consumers. This is an affront to the very concept of a free market.

...We strongly believe it is vital to introduce our own vehicles to the market because electric cars are still a relatively new technology. This model is not just a matter of selling more cars and providing optimum consumer choice for Americans, 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.

"Today’s capricious decision may effectively shut down Tesla’s operations," said Rep. Tim Eustace, D-Bergen/Passaic, an admitted electric-car driver. He urged Christie to "cut out the middleman" for the sake of "long-term benefits that electric cars pose for consumers and the environment."

Shares in Tesla slipped 2.5 percent following the announcement that the proposal had passed.

By Lindsay Abrams

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Chris Christie Electric Cars New Jersey Tesla