The war of words between the administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and electric luxury car company Tesla Motors continued when the governor held a town hall meeting Monday. The Star-Ledger newspaper reported an attendee at the event asked Christie about the ban on auto manufacturers selling cars directly to consumers passed by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission last week. Christie responded by characterising the ban as simply being a clarification of existing laws requiring manufacturers to work with auto dealers in the state that would prevent Tesla from extending its direct-sales operation to New Jersey.
“I’m not pushing Tesla out; the state Legislature did,” Christie said. “They passed a law — which is still on the books — which says if you want to sell cars in this state, you must go through an authorised dealer and my job is not to make the laws, it’s to enforce the laws.”
In a series of blog posts and tweets last week, Tesla described the ban as the result of a “backroom deal” between the state’s car dealer lobby and Christie that took place “outside the legislative process.” Christie’s office has maintained they told Tesla it would need to work with the Legislature “on a bill to establish their new direct-sales operations under New Jersey law” since the company “first began operating in New Jersey one year ago.”
Tesla currently has two stores in New Jersey. Those locations would have to close by April 1 as a result of the ban. At the town hall meeting Monday, Christie said the fact those stores were allowed to stay open up until this point proved his administration “tried to work with” Tesla. He also said he would be “happy” to have Tesla sell its cars directly in the state if the Legislature moves to change the law.
“We tried to work with them when they first started to operate, to tell them that they were not operating within the law, didn’t shut them down immediately,” said Christie. “There came a point when I had to enforce the law. That point came. If the law changes, I’m happy to enforce the new law.”
Christie also insisted he’s not opposed to Tesla’s business model.
“I have no problem with Tesla selling directly to customers, except that it’s against the law in New Jersey. So, what they need to do is go to the state Legislature and get the law changed. If they go to the state Legislature and get the law changed, that’s fine by me, but I can’t pick and choose which laws I enforce,” Christie said. “If Tesla wants a change, that’s fine. Go to the 120 members of the state Legislature and change the law. Put a bill on my desk. I’m fine with Tesla operating in this state, but I can’t let them operate against the law and thats the simple fact of it. All the other stuff that they were saying ignores the simple fact that what they were asking for was an exception from the law. I’m not the king. I don’t get to grant exceptions to the law.”
After the Commission passed the ban March 11, some Democratic New Jersey legislators indicated they would be willing to put forth a bill to change the law.
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