Gov. Phil Murphy recently led a successful trade mission to India that promises to bring jobs and investments to New Jersey. He should be commended for the time and effort he and his staff made to travel to India. But the governor didn’t have to fly all the way to India to grow jobs; he could have taken a stroll down Main Street to visit one of the 500+ neighborhood new car dealerships that are creating jobs and economic investment here in New Jersey right now.
Auto retailing is a $36.1 billion industry in New Jersey. Neighborhood new car dealers directly employ or support more than 74,000 hardworking men and women in good-paying, local jobs that can’t be outsourced. My own dealerships, representing 12 brands, sold more than 20,000 cars and light trucks last year and directly employ more than 700 men and women at 10 locations in Somerset, Morris, Passaic and Essex counties.
I am always looking to expand my business, but the current economic environment in New Jersey makes that difficult. It’s not just the crippling property taxes, the brutally high income tax burden that make it difficult to attract and retain talent, or the fact that New Jersey ranks highest in the nation for outmigration. It’s the arbitrary, uneven and inconsistent application of state laws, rules and regulations that stand as a barrier to economic growth.
Neighborhood new car dealerships must comply with state consumer protection and motor vehicle licensing laws. I support these laws and rely on state officials to fully and faithfully enforce them without reservation or favor. In a stronger and fairer economy, everyone should be able to rely on strict and even-handed application of laws designed to protect consumers and encourage fair competition. Sadly, that’s not what’s happening in New Jersey.
The New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers recently filed a lawsuit against the state for failing to enforce regulations designed to protect consumers and ensure fair competition in the marketplace. The lawsuit called out state officials who have failed to put a stop to electric car-maker Tesla’s reckless business practices, which include violations of state dealer licensing laws and deceptive “bait-and-switch” advertising. And, of course, Tesla’s history of labor and securities law violations is well documented.
Skeptical? Think it’s just unfair criticism from a competitor threatened by Tesla? Visit the Tesla website and see the price advertising that includes fanciful “discounts” and phantom “credits” intended to mislead electric vehicle shoppers into believing a $40,000+ vehicle only costs $32,000. Even the Ralph Nader-founded Center for Auto Safety condemns Tesla’s false advertising of the company’s “Autopilot” feature, which puts consumers at risk. No car dealer should be permitted to get away with that deception.
Many business owners feel New Jersey no longer promotes a business-friendly environment and question whether it’s worth remaining here. I haven’t wavered in my optimism about New Jersey’s economic potential. I’m hopeful that Gov. Murphy will do more to help businesses like mine grow and thrive, but I’m frustrated to see Main Street dealerships being expected to play by the rules, while powerful and politically connected Silicon Valley or Wall Street players, like Tesla, get special treatment. It’s unfair and, more important, when companies like Tesla embrace a lower standard of doing business and are permitted by state regulators to get away with it, their example creates a race to the bottom that taints the marketplace and harms consumers.
Tesla will counter by saying “new car dealers are not interested in selling electric cars.” Nonsense. Last year, New Jersey new car dealers sold 10,500 electric, plug-in hybrid, hybrid and other clean cars—twice as many as Tesla. We want to sell what consumers want to buy: electric cars, hybrids, diesel or traditional gas-powered vehicles. Tesla offers just three models, five colors. That’s it. Compare that to the 60+ clean vehicle models available in an infinite number of colors from GM, Honda, VW, Audi, Jaguar and more than 20 other automakers, with dozens more coming soon.
New Jersey’s neighborhood new car dealers are not concerned about competition from Tesla, which represents less than 1 percent of the New Jersey market. They are deeply concerned about unfair competition and Tesla’s use of deceptive advertising and reprehensible “bait-and-switch” sales tactics that deny electric vehicle consumers the same protections as other car shoppers and puts local businesses, like mine, at a competitive disadvantage.
The best way for the governor to build a stronger, fairer economy is to support Main Street businesses, not favor powerful and politically-connected players, like Tesla.
Paul Miller is president of Paul Miller Auto Group LLC, which operates 10 dealerships in New Jersey, representing 12 brands.