Media Reporting Tesla Model S As Plug-In Sales Champion: O RLY?

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

It’s a headline you might have seen in the past couple days: “Tesla Model S outsells Nissan Leaf (or Chevrolet Volt, you pick)”. To the layman, the story is that this amazing car from an amazing American upstart company is outselling lowly Chevys and Nissans to become America’s favorite EV. The angrier among us may wonder how a car that costs twice that of a Leaf or a Volt can outsell them both. TTAC just wants to know how any media outlet can make this comparison in the first place.

Like every other auto maker, Nissan and GM reports sales on a monthly basis, broken down by nameplate. Tesla, on the other hand, only reports on Model S “deliveries” each quarter (when they report their quarterly earnings). Nobody is really sure what that means, and everybody wants to know why Tesla doesn’t just report sales like everybody else. They haven’t given a good answer either.

Of course that hasn’t stopped outlets from the New York Post prematurely crowning the Model S as the winner of 2013’s Q1 plug-in car sales race. The Post says that

Tesla, worth less than $6 billion, is expected to deliver at least 4,750 of its Model S vehicles in the quarter, a spokeswoman told Bloomberg.

While we’ll know whether the Volt outsold the Leaf (and vice versa) on April 1, we won’t know until May 8th to find out how the Model S did. And even then, Tesla will only announce how many “deliveries” it made, and may not even say whether those are in the United States or globally. Either way, none of the big three EVs look to be coming close to the overly rosy predictions that were once imagined.

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

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  • Danio3834 Danio3834 on Apr 30, 2013

    There's just no way the Tesla has, can or will outsell the more affordable and practical EV/PHEVs. If Tesla hangs onto 6 months worth of production and delivers them all at once, it doesn't count as "outselling" the other cars as it's deliberately cherry picking the data points for the sake of a media circle jerk.

    • See 1 previous
    • DC Bruce DC Bruce on Apr 30, 2013

      I think other folks have already given a reason why Tesla will outsell other "practical" EVs (an oxymoron if there ever was one). PHEVs are another matter entirely . . . The problem with PHEVs, including the Volt, is that, for most people, the price premium over a "regular" hybrid really doesn't get you much, whether you measure "much" in lower operating costs, cool factor or performance. And, as we know, the PHEV that competed at Tesla's end of the market -- the Fisker Karma -- is a dinosaur. Arguably, it did have the cool factor and performance . . . but the execution was pretty bad, apparently. The thing about the Tesla is this: people in the income range where buying a Tesla is economically realistic do not travel long distances by car. They do not drive from New York to Washington. They take the plane, or the Acela, business class. Having done it many, many times over the past 40 years, I will say that the drive from New York to Washington sucks. And making the drive in a really cool car doesn't make it suck any less. So, the range of the Tesla and the time it takes to recharge the vehicle (without destroying the battery in two years) is really pretty much of a non-issue. It has sufficiently more range than the Leaf to be able to make day trips, which, I think is what most drivers in this economic stratum want out of a car. That and the cool factor, and the performance. Of course the fact that the Tesla (may) succeed in this part of the market is NOT an argument for the viability of electric cars as a mass-market product. The mass market uses cars much differently than the top 0.5%.

  • Thinkin... Thinkin... on Apr 30, 2013

    Can't comment on the VOLT, but the reason why the Model S will outsell the LEAF this quarter is because you couldn't buy a new leaf for love or money in the past couple months. As they shifted production to the US, there was a drought of new cars for Jan/Feb/March. And since the 2013 is so much better (cheaper and with better range), nobody wanted the leftover 2012s, and instead decided to wait until the 2013s come in - which is only finally happening now. I have two friends who both have been on informal waiting lists for the 2013 LEAF at local dealers - they just don't have the cars to sell yet. Which means that, yes, this quarter the Model S will beat the LEAF. (Which is great - I think the Model S is fabulous.) As for the Volt - I guess it's just not selling? Or is there some curious bottleneck with that as well?

  • Nicholas Weaver Nicholas Weaver on Apr 30, 2013

    Tesla's "Deliveries" do represent actual sales, since they are going with a preorder, direct to consumer model to the greatest degree possible. You can't channel stuff when you are selling directly. And Tesla's market is "those who would buy or lease a second S-class", and as a SECOND "see, I have too much money" luxo-barge, the Model S stomps everything else in the market: The looks are fantastic, the range is more than enough for the second car, and really, which would you rather have? An S-class or 7 series which, to the undiscerning eye, has the same logo as a $30K lease-special C-class or 3-series, or something which costs less AND screams out "I have a F@#)(*-ton of money"? Not to mention impressively stonkin performance.

  • Cloroxbb Cloroxbb on Apr 30, 2013

    Well, since Tesla does not take payment until delivery, then it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that deliveries = sales. Or am I mistaken in my logic?