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Tesla Model 3 = Top Selling Car in California

In somewhat of a surprise, for the first time ever, the Tesla Model 3 was the top selling vehicle in California last quarter.

In somewhat of a surprise, for the first time ever, the Tesla Model 3 was the top selling vehicle in California last quarter. (Yes, there’s a lot of irony there given the recent controversy between Tesla/Elon Musk and California, especially Alameda County.)

The Model 3 is often in the top 5 in California, but decades-long leaders from Honda and Toyota — the Civic, Accord, Corolla, and Camry — have been hard to pass up.

Here’s the data, from the California New Car Dealers Association and Experian (h/t Not_an_Analyst on Twitter):

Related: Tesla Model 3 = 8th Best Selling Car in USA

One odd thing in the report is that the California New Car Dealers Association declares the Honda Civic the best seller in California’s new vehicle market (see the headline in the screenshot below).

I’m not sure what happened there, but my guess is that whoever creates the report was used to finding the best seller from one of two categories, Compact Cars and Midsize Cars. Perhaps they just didn’t look down at the Near Luxury Cars category when scanning for the top seller. (All other theories are more nefarious, and I don’t like assuming dishonesty and immoral intent.)

Update: They have apparently updated the report to give the Tesla Model 3 its rightful dues.

As you can also see from the table above, the Model 3 actually accounted for 52.2% of “Near Luxury Car” registrations in the first quarter. The #2 BMW 3 Series saw 9.6% segment share. The real question, though, is: who the heck is still buying a BMW 3 Series or Lexus ES?

You can also see that the Chevy Bolt leads its category, with 22.2% of the Subcompact Car segment.

The Tesla Model S is #3 in the “Luxury and High End Sports Cars” category, at 11.7% segment share compared to the #1 BMW 5 Series getting 13.8% segment share and the Mercedes E-Class getting 12.8% segment share.

Similarly, the Tesla Model X was #3 in its “Luxury Midsize SUV” category, holding 10.3% segment share compared to the Lexus RX’s 19.5% segment share and the Mercedes GLE-Class getting a slight advantage over the Model X with 10.6% segment share, 87 more registrations in the quarter.

There’s a case to be made that the Model X belongs in the Luxury Large SUV class. I think it does. The mixture of interior space, price, and seating capacity seem to put it comfortably in this larger class. (Also, the people I see buying this vehicle have replaced other vehicles in this class or are clearly in a segment of buyers who select from this category.) If you put it in this Luxury Large SUV class, as you can see in the chart above, it climbs up to the #1 spot.

What we also see from that data is that the Model X was landing more than 1,000 more sales than the Model S, something I expected for several reasons. (The Model S is competing against the Model 3 to some extent; the Model X has some unique features that really attract buyers, like the falcon-wing doors; I see a lot more people in my area driving a Model X than a Model S; Tesla has reported more Model X sales more frequently in the past year or two; and Elon Musk guided that he saw the Model X selling a bit more than the Model S.)

Back to the market leading Tesla Model 3, you can see that it had 855 more registrations in the first quarter than the #2 Honda Civic and nearly 1,000 more registrations than the #3 Toyota Camry. Typically speaking, many Tesla fans expected this day would come — and are still waiting for the same thing to happen on the national level — but it must come as a shocker to the average person, and certainly to the analysts, industry insiders, and Tesla critics who for years claimed that the Model 3 wouldn’t get to production, that it was impossible to build and sell at such a low price, that Tesla couldn’t mass produce that many vehicles and there weren’t nearly enough consumers wanting the vehicle to see that many sales on an ongoing basis. After all, many of them assumed that after the initial reservation list was served, Tesla Model 3 sales would collapse and the whole company would go bankrupt. That may seem absurd to write at this moment, but it seemed to me to be the consensus opinion a year ago and for a couple of years before that.

Overall, Tesla accounted for 4.6% of the state’s vehicle registrations in the first quarter of 2020.

Of course, as elsewhere, overall vehicle registrations were down in the first quarter — 507,646 in Q1 2020 versus 530,402 in Q1 2019. That’s not too bad considering the broader context. US auto sales were down 496,000 in the first quarter. Excluding fleet sales and looking at the first 4 months of the year, though, California’s numbers do look much worse — 439,182 in 2020 versus 556,134 in 2019.

What will quarter two bring in this market for Tesla, other electric vehicles, and the market as a whole? It’s hard to say, but it may look a lot different than the first quarter due to: 1) the long Tesla Fremont factory shutdown resulting from the coronavirus/covid-19 pandemic, 2) the situation getting much more serious in the second quarter for many Americans, 3) vast unemployment and underemployment, and 4) perhaps even backlash for how Elon Musk interacted with and communicated about the state of California toward the end of the factory shutdown. On the flip side, the Model 3 does sell into a more exclusive category, and lower-class vehicle models like the decades-long leaders from Honda and Toyota might be hit much worse by the economic downturn, since that downturn is hitting people in the middle class and lower much more than white collar professionals who can afford the upfront cost or monthly payments of a Tesla Model 3.

Any thoughts? Any other favorite findings from the California New Car Dealers Association’s numbers?

If you’re curious about Tesla Model 3 ownership, peruse our Tesla Model 3 long-term review articles from several Model 3 owners, including myself.

Want to buy a Tesla Model 3 yourself? (Or a Model S or Model X?) Feel free to use my referral code to get some free Supercharging miles with your purchase: can also get a $250 discount on Tesla solar with that code. You don’t currently get any benefit from a referral code when ordering a Model Y or reserving a Cybertruck.

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Written By

Zach 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], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.


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