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Published on April 3rd, 2020 | by Zachary Shahan


Could The Tesla Model Y Become The Top Selling SUV In The USA?

April 3rd, 2020 by  

The Tesla Model 3 has performed exceptionally well in the vehicles class it’s in. It has been #1 by far in the United States in the premium-car class for more than a year. It is the only premium-class car on the list of the 10 top selling cars in the country. It was also the top selling vehicle of any kind last year in some countries in Europe, including in the Netherlands, where it scored more than double the sales of the #2 Volkswagen Polo.

There are some other great electric vehicles out there, but if you accept that the market is a good judge of value for the money, the Model 3 stands far in the lead of any other electric models. It had nearly 3 times as many sales as the #2 BAIC EU-Series in 2019.

But the Model 3 suffers from one problem — it’s a car. By and large, buyers these days want SUVs, or at least crossovers. Approximately 50% of new vehicle sales in the United States are now SUVs/crossovers, according to JATO Dynamics. The 3 top selling vehicle models in the country are pickup trucks (the Ford F-Series, Ram Pickup, and Chevy Silverado), and then the next 3 top sellers are SUVs/crossovers (the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Chevy Equinox). So, basically, if you want to have a vehicle in the top 5 in the US, you need a high selling pickup truck or SUV/crossover. The Model Y is clearly targeted at being the latter, and the Cybertruck the former — maybe.

There is a problem you may have noticed here. The base prices of the top selling SUV/crossover models are approximately half the base price of the Model Y. Yes, some people might determine that the long-term cost of ownership will favor the Model Y and then buy it anyway, but others simply won’t have enough monthly income to pay for the thing.

Nonetheless, with so much greater value, the Model Y could surprise. Remember that many Model 3 buyers (or at least early buyers) traded in Honda Accords and Honda Civics for their Model 3s. Those Honda models, as well as the Toyota Prius and BMW S-Series, were among the top 5 models traded in for the Model 3 in early quarters. (We don’t know if that pattern has continued since then.) What are the SUV/crossover versions of those top selling cars? The RAV4 and CR-V.

Could 300,000 Americans want and buy a Model Y each year? That would put it in the top 10 of all vehicles, based on 2019 numbers. Could 450,000 Americans a year want and buy the Model Y, making it the top selling SUV or crossover?

Charts from Electric Car Drivers: Demands, Desires & Dreams — European Edition (2020) and Electric Car Drivers: Demands, Desires & Dreams (2019).

One big wild card concerns Full Self Driving. If Tesla does indeed roll out strong improvements to its Full Self Driving software suite, everyone and their mother will want this vehicle. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but it’s hard not to see a few Full Self Driving updates spiking demand for the Model 3 and Model Y.

With or without Full Self Driving, though, I think the fundamental matter it comes down to is word of mouth and personal experience. If everyone in the country heard about and rode in a Tesla, as long as production capacity could match demand, Tesla would have no problem selling more than 500,000 Model Ys a year. I don’t think there’s even a question about that.

Of course, if Tesla could offer a vehicle $5,000–10,000 cheaper, that would open up the market to many more people who, despite wanting a Tesla, can’t afford the monthly payments. Without any expectation of that coming in the next few years, though, many people will make the “Tesla stretch” in order to get a vehicle with the best value for the money equation on the market.

For more on the reasons people love Tesla vehicles, see: “70 Reasons Why Tesla Model 3 Is Most Loved Car.” That story followed Consumer Reports surveys indicating that Model 3 owners are more satisfied with their cars than the owners of any other vehicle on the US market.

Want to buy a Tesla Model 3, Model S, or Model X? Feel free to use my referral code to get some free Supercharging miles with your purchase: https://ts.la/zachary63404. Or not. It’s always best to use the code of the owner who most helped you decide on a Tesla, imho.

You can also get a $250 discount on Tesla solar with that code. There is currently no use for a referral code when putting down a reservation for a Cybertruck or Model Y.

Tesla Model 3 
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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA] — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in this company and feels like it is a good cleantech company to invest in. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort on Tesla or any other company.

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