Porsche is a well known automobile brand globally. If you ask 100 people what Porsche sells and ask the same 100 people what Tesla sales, no doubt about it there will be a higher number of correct responses regarding Porsche. It’s also a niche vehicle brand, of course, since it sells expensive*, powerful vehicles. Its brand is all about, “You have to be rich to afford this toy.” (That’s not a direct quote of Porsche marketing materials, of course.) The sales marker highlighted in the headline is interesting when thinking about both of those matters — Porsche awareness and Porsche exclusivity. Before discussing both of them, though, let’s jump into the numbers.
Tesla had 158,200 global deliveries in the first half of 2019. Porsche had 133,848. Tesla has 3 models on the market at the moment: Tesla Model S, Model X, and Model 3. Porsche has 5 core models: Porsche 718, 911, Panamera, Macan, and Cayenne. A quick look at base prices for these (using US prices) is a useful way to consider the market potential of these brands, so let’s have a quick look:
- Model 3 — $38,990 (or, reportedly, $35,000 if you go into a store to order the base base model, but it seems no one or almost no one does that)
- Model S — $79,990
- Model X — $84,990
I put an asterisk(*) in the opening paragraph when mentioning that Porsche vehicles are expensive. That asterisk was because, as you can see above, Porsche actually now sells a model that starts at $49,900, which isn’t cheap but is probably much closer to mass market pricing than many of you expected. It’s just $11,000 more than the lowest cost Tesla, and well below the price of a Model S or Model X. Additionally, aside from the Macan, you can see that the Cayenne comes in lower than the Model X and the 718 starts at “just” $56,900. In other words, Porsche model pricing is not dramatically different from Tesla model pricing.
Also noteworthy is that the Macan is squarely in the most popular vehicle class of the day — crossover. Tesla doesn’t yet have a vehicle in that class, which is why it is bringing the Model Y to market next year. It is widely considered that the Model Y will be approximately equally between the Model 3 and Macan in price, will outsell the Model 3, and will dramatically outsell the Macan. We’ll see, and we’ll certainly report the results here on CleanTechnica.
Let’s get back to those two major brand issues noted at the top. First of all, there’s the matter of overall brand awareness. As indicated, there’s approximately a 100% chance Porsche has better brand awareness globally. It would be hard to find a person who didn’t know about Porsche or what it sells. On the other hand, I could probably find someone in a mall here in Florida in ~3 minutes who didn’t know what Tesla sold. I could perhaps even do that standing 30 feet from the Tesla store. (Maybe I’ll test my hypothesis.) For Tesla to be selling ~50,000 more vehicles a year than Porsche (extrapolating from H1 2019 data), despite less overall brand awareness and less of a global auto dealership network, is already impressive and a testament to Tesla’s competitiveness and global potential.
The second brand issue — that Porsche is associated with expensive, sporty cars — is a fascinating one. Tesla has built a very similar — practically identical — brand. It is know for its expensive, sporty cars. You may say that Porsche’s sales are hurt a bit by that image, since many people probably don’t realize you can get a Porsche crossover for $49,900 (theoretically). However, Tesla has surely been hurt by the same exclusive, for-rich-people image. Even among people who know about Tesla, many or even most don’t realize that you can get a Model 3 for $38,990 (plus taxes). While it may be difficult for Porsche to raise awareness of its moderately priced crossover, Tesla’s focus is making electric vehicles mainstream, so raising awareness of the Model 3’s relatively low cost — especially if you work in fuel, maintenance, and perhaps even insurance savings — is a central goal of the company at the moment, and many fans and owners are eager to highlight this as well.
In other words, while Porsche will likely remain pigeonholed in the for-the-rich-only category, Tesla is moving its vehicle image towards feature-packed electric vehicle for the masses. The point is that they have performance you’d expect from a Porsche (or even better) for the cost of a Camry, Accord, Civic, Corolla, Maxima, or Altima. That combination, if it takes over in the public consciousness as the essential definition of a Tesla, would provide Tesla with a massive market. The company’s 158,000 sales in the first half of 2019 could double to 316,000 in the first half of 2020 (maybe), and 632,000 in the first half of 2021 (maybe). With such a competitive value-for-the-money offering, why wouldn’t they?
People may wonder if it’s relevant to compare Tesla sales to Porsche sales. I think it’s highly relevant and useful. The big fundamental question for years has been whether or not Tesla can move beyond its “expensive sporty vehicles for the rich” brand to a “high-performance, high-tech, premium-quality vehicles for the masses” brand. Passing up Porsche in global sales is one step in that direction. A difference of 20,000 vehicles is not yet a dramatic difference, though. The question is whether Tesla will remain a bit ahead of Porsche but in this same niche realm or whether it will grow out of this comparison as the Model 3 increasingly competes with mass-market cars like the Camry, Accord, Civic, Corolla, and Maxima (as well as premium-class sedans like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4), and the Model Y competes with both premium and mass-market crossovers in a similar way.
You all know my expectations. I think word of mouth and glowing review after glowing review will lead to strong continued growth of Tesla sales. I think the value for the money package you get from a Model 3 or Model Y is truly disruptive. Nonetheless, my mind, eyes, and ears are open, and I realize there’s still an awareness and perception hurdle for Tesla to overcome. I know that many people still look at a Tesla and write it off as a car that’s beyond their means, too expensive to be practical (not calculating lower cost of ownership), or just for people obsessed with sporty driving and new tech. If we see more signs of “normal people” foregoing a Camry or Accord for a Model 3, though, people should expect that this Porsche vs. Tesla comparison will look bad for Tesla in a year or two. If Tesla can be seen as “a Porsche for middle class soccer dads and soccer moms,” the sales growth trend we’ve seen for Tesla in recent years won’t stop or slow down.
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