The Tesla Model 3’s #6 position in 3rd quarter US car sales* seems both shockingly high and surprisingly low at the same time. No, this is not a trick — I’m serious.
On the surface, I consider the Model 3’s US sales shockingly high because the car has by far the highest base price of any car in the top 10. The Honda Civic’s base price is $21,650, the Toyota Camry’s base price is $24,295, the Toyota Corolla’s base price is $19,600, the Honda Accord’s base price is $23,870, the Nissan Altima’s base price is $24,100, and the Tesla Model 3’s base price (online) is $38,990. The smallest separation in price there is more than $15,000, and the Model 3 clearly sits in a very different class that’s out of the financial reach of many households.
On the other hand, as I’ve pointed out extensively, in many circumstances the Model 3’s total cost of ownership over just 5 years could be close to or even lower than the Camry’s, Accord’s, etc. What do you get for that similar 5 year cost of ownership? A tremendously better car. The Model 3 has better safety scores (the best in history), has much better tech (infotainment and semi-autonomous driving tech are far ahead of any competitors’ tech, let alone that of these mainstream models), offers a much better driving experience, is much quicker, is cleaner, and genuinely looks like a higher class car (yes, I think that’s an objective judgement). In that light, it’s surprising the Model 3 isn’t yet the top selling car in the country. However, the vast majority of the public doesn’t know about the Model 3, its benefits, or how competitive it can be on a total cost of ownership basis.
With those initial thoughts out of the way, let’s jump to the numbers.
As you can see, my estimate for Tesla Model 3 sales* put it confidently in the 6th position, 8,000 units below the #5 Nissan Altima and more than 30,000 units behind the #4 Honda Accord (about 10,000 units per month lower). It was just 2,500 units above the #7 Hyundai Elantra in the 3rd quarter.
For the full first 9 months of the year, the Model 3 drops to #9. In the 1st quarter of the year, Tesla shipped most of the cars it produced overseas and was suffering from a US sales wave that saw a peak in deliveries at the end of 2018 followed by a crash in the beginning of 2019. Finishing in 9th place in the first three quarters results in the same narrative, though. The result seems both shockingly high and surprisingly low at the same time.
*Tesla reports quarterly sales and does not break them out by country or region. Eventually, we get registration data from Europe, China (educated estimates at least), and Canada and can then make a more solid estimate of US sales for the quarter, as well as monthly sales estimates. However, it’s a bit early for all of that since we don’t have September numbers from most countries yet. Even our data-loving friend and contributor Jose Pontes of EV Volumes didn’t want to venture out too far on a limb and provide an early estimate that he might have to walk back. That said, looking at previous months’ data, September figures from the Netherlands and Norway, and deeper historical data, I feel comfortable estimating Model 3 sales between 40,000 and 50,000 in the US in the third quarter. For this report, I’ve settled on 43,000.
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