Tesla is "still studying what our options are" to challenge the ruling of the state Motor Vehicle Commission, says Diarmuid O'Connell, who is charge of business development. As for CEO Elon Musk's cryptic mention last week of "judicial remedies" in a blog post about the case, O'Connell says "there appear to be some paths forward on that front."
Tesla had two showrooms for selling its electric luxury cars direct to the public in New Jersey. But the commission ruled that vehicles must be sold through dealers, not by manufacturers. Musk shot back, saying a blog post that the Christie administration had made a backroom deal with the dealers.
O'Connell, in an interview with USA TODAY, insists that Tesla "was operating in good faith from the beginning." While he's careful to point out that he's not a lawyer, he says "I would assume there would have to be a legal basis for changing that regulation."
New Jersey is not the only state where Tesla is fighting to stick with its business model.
In New York, a bill in the Legislature is also aimed at stopping Tesla. He says the bill is only the latest attempt, following two efforts in court in a state where Tesla has five showrooms and four service centers.
Ohio is another battleground, where dealers are moving to limit Tesla's operations, according to O'Connell. But "we are committed to sustaining growth there."
Then there is Texas, where Tesla has been barred under its current dealer-less mode. The state is a finalist for Tesla's giant battery plant. O'Connell dangles the possiblity that allowing the automaker to sell there could help the Lone Star State's chances. "Our business interests are, to a degree, (influenced) by where we sell cars," O'Connell says. He adds that there aren't "explicit ties" between! the decision on the factory location and where its cars are sold, but Texas certainly wouldn't hurt is chances for the plant by letting sales go forward.
Tesla's crusade to cut out the middlemen when it comes to selling cars is critical, he says. "We wouldn't be arguing and fighting...if we didn't feel it was direct to our mission," he says.