Talking or writing about electric vehicles, we typically try to keep context in mind and add useful context whenever possible. One thing specifically that I often feel compelled to explain, because of how important it is for market context, is that Tesla is in a league of its own in the United States (and, to some degree, globally). The point is not — at all — to hype Tesla. The point is just to explain that this is a dramatically unbalanced market and there are reasons for that (there have to be reasons for that). I recently published a report comparing Q1 2021 sales of a dozen electric vehicles in the United States. In the comments, a reader, “nitpicker357” (may not be his/her real-world name), requested a historical US EV sales chart. I thought that would be fun to see and would really help to provide some historical sales context visually, so I got to work on it.
It’s hard to display the data very well in a static chart or graph, so I’m only putting interactive charts and graphs in this article. These often do not display well on mobile phones, so I recommend saving this article and coming back to it on a “real computer” if you are reading on a phone right now. (Sorry.)
Simple bar charts are the best display option I found for the data. You have to flip through each model’s chart for quarterly sales from Q1 2018 to Q1 2021 using the dropdown bar on the top left. The scale is kept the same for all of the charts. Flipping through all of the charts shows a stark contrast between Tesla’s high-volume models and every other electric vehicle model on the market.
As you can see, the charts for every other model are so low that they’re just sad — not for just one month or one quarter, but from the beginning of 2018 until today. If you went in alphabetical order, the Chevy Bolt’s rise above previous models was noticeable and might have seemed noteworthy for a moment, but once you get to the Model Y, you can see that Tesla is not just a league above, it’s about 4 or 5 leagues above. If the Tesla Model Y and Model 3 are in Division 1, the top electric models behind them are probably in Division 5.
This is not a joyous note, and I’m not trying to hype up Tesla or smear the other automakers. The goal is to electrify 100% of the fleet, and I know Tesla can’t do it on its own, so seeing this stark difference is an unfortunate smack in the face. Even though I love the Ford Mustang Mach-E, for example, I can see that it has a steep hill to climb to get to the Model Y’s level, and I don’t expect that it is going to climb that hill. Even though I know you can get the Chevy Bolt at very low prices and it just had a record 1st quarter, I can also see how much lower it sits than the two high-volume Teslas, and I know that any momentum it picks up from months with great dealer discounts will be halted before there’s time to actually get excited and hopeful.
We need more high-volume electric vehicles. Who’s going to bring them to market? I want to know.
Let’s jump to the line graph now.
This is a messy chart, in part because so many models sit so far below the Model 3 and Model Y. If you hover over any line, it will get highlighted as the others fade and you can see which model it is for. Everything is sitting below 10,000 sales every quarter of the 2+ year period — except for the Model 3 and Model Y, which are sky high and easily visible without highlighting them. It’s a world of difference.
If you talk to different people, you will get different explanations of why this is: Tesla Supercharging, Tesla Autopilot, Tesla safety, Tesla infotainment, Tesla performance, Tesla stores and online shopping (no scammy dealers to haggle with), Tesla hype (#ThanksElon #ThanksFanboys), simply production capacity/availability, or a combo of any number of those things. The end story is the same no matter which explanation you align with, though. The Tesla Model 3 and Model Y sell at a much higher level than other electric models in the United States. I’d love to see that change. How do we get there?