Christie's War on Tesla Motors Will Backfire

Friday, 21 Mar 2014 03:11 PM

By Chris Freind

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Chris Christie has lost it.
 
No, not his weight. And not the notion of his involvement in the Bridge-gate scandal.
 
It’s much worse. He’s lost his mind.
 
Christie veered off the road of common sense when his Motor Vehicle Commission barred auto manufacturers from selling directly to the public. Christie’s “fiat” mandating that all cars be sold through dealers has kept the special interests’ status quo alive and well, and amounts to a hit-and-run on the free market.
 
In hitching his trailer to New Jersey’s car dealer lobby, Christie has shown himself to be an elitist country club Republican firmly in the backseat of big business. Ironically, this is a U-turn, as Christie held the rare “man of the people” status.
 
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but it is hard to see any good intent in Christie’s latest dictate, leading many to ask if Chris Christie is who his critics claim him to be: just another good ole boy who talks a great game but is no different than the typical Jersey pol. How many times can you give Christie the benefit of the doubt? And on this, there’s no doubt. The decision to jump in bed with the car dealers has Christie’s hood emblem all over it.
 
The controversy involves upstart electric carmaker Tesla Motors, whose innovative business model cuts out the middleman, with the company selling directly to the public through storefront offices and the Internet. Because of the rule change, Tesla’s two New Jersey locations, as well as two planned service centers, will close. Isn’t this the same Chris Christie who said he wanted to create jobs, not eliminate them?
 
Several points on this car-wreck policy:
 
1) Is this the image the Republican Party wants? Being in bed with business plays into the stereotype of who controls the GOP. And being nakedly anti-competition so rankles conservatives that even more will bolt to the Libertarian ranks. Strong-arm tactics also alienate swing-voting good-government types. Since Republicans are looking at the Democrats’ taillights, they should be speeding away from this unpopular policy.
 
2) Tesla has been selling cars in Jersey for over a year, and said the Christie administration went back on its word, unilaterally deciding the matter. The arrangement had been to allow the legislature to handle it in a fair, public manner. Given Christie’s track record of late, the benefit of the doubt has to go to Tesla. Enacting such a far-reaching rule change should be the domain of elected lawmakers, not bureaucrats in vehicle commissions.
 
3) The rule is a kick in the teeth to competition and fair play, not to mention Tesla’s innovation. Will Tesla’s business strategy be successful? Who knows, but that’s what the free market is all about: bold ideas, takings risks and seeing if people like what is offered. Tesla should rise or fall on people’s choices, not government intervention and special interests.
 
4) Where does it end? Should Netflix be banned and people mandated to rent movies at a strip mall store? Should Amazon have to ship all merchandise to a third party with a brick-and-mortar showroom?
 
The new rule also requires a dealer to have 1,000 square feet of display area, showroom space for at least two cars, and service equipment, none of which fits into Tesla’s model. Who is the government to tell a company how to market and sell its products? Seems like the car dealer lobby just got a ticket on the government gravy train, fueled by hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions.
 
And we thought Chris Christie’s involvement with cars only had to do with bridges.
 
5) New Jersey is not alone. Republican states Texas and Arizona have anti-Tesla regulations on the books, and other states controlled by both parties are considering them.
 
As to why, perhaps someone could decipher the words of the president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, when he chided, “What is it about Tesla that makes them immune from the concerns of zero price competition and a monopoly market, or not fully and fairly administering safety and recall services?”
 
He lost me at immune.
 
If incoherent babblings about recalls, service, and price controls are proponents’ best arguments, this will be a victory lap through the courts for Tesla CEO Elon Musk, as this rule is unconstitutional on a number of fronts, such as the Interstate Commerce and Equal Protection Clauses.
 
More than just cars, this is an issue about competition, government interference, the need for term limits, and the role of special interests in shaping policies for the benefit of a few, to the detriment of many.
 
As the race to the White House begins, candidates are starting their engines. For Chris Christie, this head-on collision will ensure that he won’t be in the driver’s seat.
 
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, Freindly Fire Zone Media. Read more reports from Chris Freind — Click Here Now.
 
 
 

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