Tesla Model S is America’s Best-Selling Plug-in Car This Year

Tesla will need to push hard to make its year-end global sales projection, but meanwhile its Model S leads the U.S. among plug-in electrified vehicle sales.

Aside from the BMW i3, all higher volume plug-in cars are down this year compared to last, but the Model S has managed to grow its business 48.7 percent, and its U.S. tally is 17,700 sales through September.

This compares to the former leaders which are leaders no more at this juncture. The Nissan Leaf is holding on with 13,630 and the Chevy Volt is at 9,264.

Tesla exceeds Nissan by 29.9 percent and Chevrolet by 91.1 percent. This is true although Model S is luxury performance car starting at $76,000 – 2-4 times the price of the “mass market” priced cars.

It would appear upscale buyers are still attracted, while down market buyers which might be expected to represent a far higher proportion are not as much.

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Both the Leaf and Volt were launched December 2010, the Model S was launched June 2012, so it’s newer. Tesla has also kept the excitement going by introducing significant new all-wheel-drive variants last year and this, the base 70D, 85D, P85D, and P90D.

By contrast the major automakers’ 2015 products look relatively stale. The Volt has seen sales diminish as people await the improved second generation 2016, and the Leaf has withered on the vine as an improved – but not fully redesigned – 2016 is expected as well.

Other factors hurting sales to a degree would be cheap gasoline, but this has not hurt BMW’s i3 which with 7,893 sales is up 154.3 percent.

BMW i3 is up in part because of better inventory, said analyst Alan Baum, and BMW recently increased its production rate which allowed greater volume to Europe and North America, its two main markets.

The only other plug-in electrified cars up this year are minor players. Compliance car Chevy Spark EV is up 138.4 percent with 2,134 total sales this year, and more-recently launched Mercedes B-Class Electric’s 1,687 is up 974.5 percent. BMW’s i8 also is up significantly percentage-wise with 1,342 sales representing a 1,903-percent improvement.

Meet Year End Guidance?

But while Tesla is the top dog, it will have its work cut out for it if it expects to make its minimum global sales projection for this year.

The automaker has delivered 33,151 units worldwide this year through Q3. It is up significantly, but it set a goal two-thirds higher than last year’s 33,000 at 55,000 – which it cut in August to between 50,000 and 55,000.

So, the minimum goal is 50,000 sales, and through Q3, it delivered in three 2015 sales quarters what it did for all of year last year. That was a stretch, but a bigger stretch will be needed the rest of this year. To make its year-end number, it will 16,849 sales in Q4 – 45.6 percent more than 11,580 sold in Q3.

If it only matches Q3, it will finish the year with 45,000 – still better than last year, and better than any other PEV.

All this may be par for the course for the company that has been experiencing growing pains since day one. It keeps analysts guessing, and both bears and bulls offering their considered viewpoints as to why it will fail or succeed.

To date, the upstart has created considerable thunder and lightning over its contrarian thrust into the automotive world but viewed next to the major market, its sales are a drop in the bucket.

The U.S. bought 16.5 million passenger vehicles last year. Since launch mid-2012, the Model S has sold just 90,000 units, about a good 2-3 months for top-selling vehicles in the market.

But so it goes in this nascent market fighting against resistance.

As a lead protagonist, Tesla is continuing to push with Model X and toward Model 3.

Whether it even celebrates a 100,000 Model S global milestone by the end of November or early December, or keeps its head down and continues rolling toward giant ambitions is anyone’s guess.