EXCLUSIVE: The NJ Assemblyman Who Wants To Save Tesla

Two weeks ago, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission unanimously voted in a change in regulation which made it impossible for electric car company Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] to sell direct to customers in the state.

New Jersey Assemblyman Timothy Eustace wants to help Tesla fight the Christie Administration.

New Jersey Assemblyman Timothy Eustace wants to help Tesla sell direct to customers in the Garden State

A week later, the state’s Republican Governor Chris Christie told an assembled press conference that the NJMVC and his administration were simply ‘following existing law’ which Tesla was in breach of. If Tesla didn’t like it, Christie opined, it would have to work with the legislature to put a new law on the books which he would gladly sign.

Luckily for Tesla, it already has allies in both state houses — and today we’re able to bring you an exclusive interview with one of them.

A ‘car nut’ who drives on sunlight

Democratic Assemblyman Timothy Eustace, who assumed his position representing the 38th legislative district in the New Jersey General Assembly in January 2012, is a long-time electric vehicle advocate. A self-described ‘car nut,’ Assemblyman Eustace is currently on his second Nissan LEAF, which shares a garage alongside his vintage British-made MG-B. The LEAF, he says, is his daily driver.

“I love the idea that I get to drive past the gas station,” he said. “We have solar panels on the house, so it’s a full-circle philosophy that you plug it in, the sun gets the power. It’s not coal-fired. I’m really excited about the idea and I try to get other people excited about it too.”

Direct response

Yesterday, we brought you news of NJ Assembly bill A2986, authored by Eustace and introduced to the New Jersey General Assembly at the end of last week. The bill, which has yet to make it through the Assembly, seeks to amend current state law to make it possible for any electric automaker to sell directly to consumers within the state of New Jersey, provided the automaker is properly licensed by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.

Eustace says the bill was a direct response to the unexpected March 11 meeting, where the NJMVC unanimously voted to prohibit Tesla from selling direct to customers in the Garden State.

Two weeks ago, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission unanimously voted to prevent Tesla from selling direct to customers in New Jersey

Two weeks ago, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission unanimously voted to prevent Tesla from selling direct to customers in New Jersey

“We had no idea it was going on,” he told Transport Evolved. “It came right out of the blue.”

By the time Governor Christie publicly told Tesla and its disgruntled fans last week to approach the 120 elected members of the New Jersey Legislature to effect a change in state law, Eustace was already preparing A2986 for introduction to the New Jersey General Assembly.

When asked about Governor Christie’s challenge, Eustace laughed. “That’s exactly what we were doing,” he said.

Independent from Tesla, bipartisan support expected

It’s worth noting at this point that both Assemblyman Eustace’s Bill A2986, along with a proposed amendment being suggested to New Jersey Senate Bill S297 by Democratic New Jersey Senator Raymond Lesniak were introduced to their respective houses without the direct influence of Tesla or any lobbyists.

Neither bill author have reached out to the other yet, either. When Transport Evolved spoke with Assemblyman Eustace this morning, he said he hadn’t yet read New Jersey Senate Bill S297, but that it was his plan to do so very soon. “Most people who have spoken out agree that we need a solution,” he told us. “I don’t have to be the author of the solution. I just want to be part of the solution.”

Eustace says Tesla's sales model isn't new: Ford and GM sold direct to customers at one point in their past

Eustace says Tesla’s sales model isn’t new: Ford and GM sold direct to customers at one point in their past

It’s clear from talking to Assemblyman Eustace that he’s confident of support from many different arenas as A2986 makes it way through the lower house. While both he and Sen. Lesniak happen to be Democratic officials, he’s hopeful that both bills will unite supporters across the aisle.

“I’ve spoke with several other members [of the Assembly],” he said. “It doesn’t have bipartisan support just yet but I expect that it will. I think most of us want to solve this problem.”

Spur the American spirit

Assemblyman Eustace says that without pro direct-to-customer allowances for Tesla and other electric automakers, New Jersey itself stands to lose a lot, some of which would take the state a long time to recover from.

“We stand to lose out on the new technology that’s going to save us money and save the environment,” he said. “Then there’s jobs. In my district alone there are about two dozen jobs we’ll lose.”

For the state of New Jersey however, the consequences of bills A2986 and S297 not passing reach far further than Tesla and its employees.

“We don’t want to be a state that has a reputation for pushing away new businesses. New ideas need to be able to grow and be fostered here,” he said. “We should be supporting the American entrepreneurial spirit.”

The proposed bill is about supporting American entrepreneurial spirit, Eustace says.

The proposed bill is about supporting American entrepreneurial spirit, Eustace says.

“The idea was to spur the American entrepreneurial spirit, not thwart it,” he continued. “A new business model is never a bad idea.”

With sales of Tesla electric cars moving out of state, Eustace explained, even the State’s budget could suffer. “Our budget is very, very tight,” he told us. “The tax revenues will go to another state if people can’t purchase the cars here.”

 ‘Laughable’

As Assemblyman Eustace explained to us on the telephone, Tesla’s current business model isn’t even all that new.  In fact, he attests, Tesla’s current business model is one we’ve seen many times before — from the very automakers who oppose Tesla’s store-based model.

“General Motors and Ford didn’t start out with franchises,” he said. “They started out direct to market. It took them years to build the marketing system they have now.”

Governor Christie said Tesla should lobby for a change in New Jersey law, and supporters are already trying just that.

Governor Christie said Tesla should lobby for a change in New Jersey law, and supporters are already trying just that.

That, along with Christie’s public speech on the whole Tesla matter last week, makes the whole thing ‘laughable,’ Eustace says. But as with any good leader, he’s able to see opportunity amidst adversity.

“The one good comment [Gov. Christie] made was that he would look forward to a solution and would sign it,” Eustace said. “I’m going to believe him about that.”

Transport Evolved would like to thank Assemblyman Eustace for taking the time out to speak to us about this important electric car story.

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  • vdiv

    Great story Nikki! Thanks for interviewing the Assemblyman!

  • Dennis Pascual

    Thanks for getting the story. Now, for New Jersey’s sake, let’s hope that either of the two bills resolves this matter in a positive way.

    • Mark Chatterley

      Thanks. Please do share around.nnAlso, don’t you just love my lovely new ‘Related Posts’ feature?

  • Michael Thwaite

    Go NJ Legislature!nnnI’m feeling a lot happier about my states ‘state’ right now. I expect to see bi-partisan support for this bill and look forward to the outcome.nnnIf we, EV advocates, ever needed a yardstick by which to measure our success, the people of NJ have given us literally, a big thumbs up. Driving around in my Roadster, I’m getting thumbs up all around and supportive comments from everyone I meet. It’s only the chilly air that’s reminding me that we’re not in California!