The guerilla warfare between auto dealers and Tesla Motors continues, with the latest skirmish happening tomorrow in New Jersey.

Perhaps war analogies are overstating the case, but certainly Tesla has had to fight in numerous states for the right to sell its cars directly to buyers through the Internet.

Tesla Store Los Angeles [photo: Misha Bruk / MBH Architects]

Tesla Store Los Angeles [photo: Misha Bruk / MBH Architects]

On Thursday, June 5 (tomorrow), a bill that will allow new electric-car companies--like Tesla--to sell their cars directly to the public will be heard by the Consumer Affairs Committee of the New Jersey State Assembly.

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The bill applies solely to makers of zero-emission vehicles--presumably battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles--and specifically does not apply to range-extended electric cars, plug-in hybrids, or conventional hybrids.

Market-percentage cap

UPDATE: The full text of the bill being heard today, NJ A3216, can be viewed here.

And it legalizes such direct sales only as long as zero-emission vehicles represent less than 4 percent of total sales in New Jersey. The full text of the bill, NJ A3096, can be viewed here.

This past March, the state's Department of Motor Vehicles decided to enforce an existing state law that forbade direct sales by automakers.

It's clear that Tesla had been negotiating with the state for some months; what happened during those negotiations, and why they broke down, depends on which side you talk to.

The role played by the office of embattled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is also unclear, as a long-running scandal over the office's role in the closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge to New York City slowly plays out in hearings, subpoenas, and legal maneuvering.

iPhone 5

iPhone 5

Existential threat

Auto-dealer associations at both the state and national level are existentially threatened by Tesla's direct-sales model, although the original laws forbidding carmakers from selling direct were enacted solely to protect existing franchise holders--of which Tesla has none.

Dealers have been successful in some states, unsuccessful in others, though Tesla has often been able to rally its supporters to show up at statehouses in support of its model.

The company also appears to have changed the minds of at least a few state legislators by allowing them to drive an actual Tesla Model S.

Electric cars and iPhones

"Consider our world if Apple had been forced to sell the iPhone through retailers only--with retailer-set pricing, retailer product specification, and their unwanted added software," writes the advocacy group Plug-In America in an action alert to its members.

"Would the U.S. still be the leaders in smartphone design and technology, or would China and Europe have stolen the show?"

New Jersey residents can see the full Plug-In America action alert here.


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