We’ve been covering Tesla sales for the past 9 years, since the Model S arrived. At many steps along the way, I’ve thought the quarterly sales chart has shown amazing growth. Looking back to those points now, they look like small successes and periods of low sales. How things change with time and more context! Let’s stroll back a little bit, though, and examine some of the bigger changes from quarter to quarter and year to year.
Most notably, there was the jump in the 3rd and 4th quarter of 2018, which most people seemed to assume was impossible. Tesla reached levels of production, and thus sales, that were actually called “impossible” a few years prior and even a few months prior. Actually, such claims were prevalent up until the point that Tesla released its quarterly sales figures. That big production and delivery bump is also what allowed Tesla to become profitable. There was a widespread assumption at the time that those quarters would be a peak period for Tesla sales, and that Tesla’s profitability wouldn’t last. (Of course, that was never an assumption among Tesla bulls, but it certainly was among many critics of Tesla, and I think also among the general public when they knew anything at all about Tesla — based on my limited conversations with people outside of “EV world.”) The reasoning was that Tesla had delivered vehicles in the second half of 2018 to the many Americans and Canadians who had reserved a Tesla Model 3 over the course of the previous 2½ years and that the delivery total was not in line with a sustainable level of consumer demand.
Elon Musk and team said that wasn’t the case, that Tesla had no issues with demand, and that the limiting factor to bigger sales was production capacity. Regarding the dip in 2019 that followed, it should be noted that Tesla started shipping Model 3s to Europe at that time, which led to a chunk of deliveries lagging until the next quarter. Also, there may have indeed been a bit of a boom-bust situation in the US at the time because of the US federal tax credit for Tesla buyers beginning to phase out (the credit dropped from $7,500 to $3,750 on January 1, 2019). In any case, though, a few weeks worth of vehicles were on their way from the US to Europe when the first quarter ended, resulting in that odd drop you see in Q1 2019. And any potentially short-term demand dip that occurred in the US was quite quickly overcome by word of mouth and people just getting more familiar with the Tesla brand and Tesla vehicles cruising the streets around them.
I’ll take this opportunity to show not just the overall quarterly sales chart, but also quarterly charts and graphs broken out by model. You can see interactive charts and graphs on the bottom of this article, but they tend to not show well on mobile devices, so I encourage you to revisit this piece on a “normal computer” if you are reading on your phone right now. Otherwise, here are static versions of the charts and graphs:
Much to the chagrin of those of us who like to track Tesla sales (and I’d say that’s approximately 100% of Tesla bulls and bears), Tesla decided to bundle Model 3 & Model Y sales when the Model Y came out, as well as Model S & X sales when they basically became a minor sideshow compared to the blazing, mass-market models. I think it’s easy to assume why Tesla combines models like this when reporting official global stats, and the rationale makes sense (but it’s still annoying). Tesla has been dealing with high levels of misleading media hype and social media trolling since 2017, if not earlier. Elon Musk knew that if Tesla reported dropping Model 3 sales (deliveries) as the Model Y ramped up, the media and Wall Street would start to hyperventilate about “collapsing Model 3 sales,” and that could be harmful to the company — and just plain annoying. With approximately 76% of the parts shared, much of the production capacity for these two models is shared, and demand aside, in order to start bringing the Model Y to market, Tesla had to reduce Model 3 production. Also, the Model Y crossover is the preferred body style and size for many consumers today, so it was sure to be the model many buyers chose once it became available. Nonetheless, if you look closely, based on a large variety of sources and a few assumptions of my own, after a notable dip in the first half of 2020 that was COVID-related, the Model 3 rose again and it has not gone below the Q3 2020 delivery total since then. Is approximately 110,000–120,000 quarterly deliveries a sustainable global demand level? Or does the Model 3 have much higher to rise as more production capacity comes online and word of mouth spreads even further? We shall see.
Naturally, the end of 2020 and the first three quarters of 2021 have made the feats of 2018 and 2019 look “meh.” There was nothing meh about 2018 and 2019, but the second half of 2020 and 2021 have been superb and stunning, even for Tesla bulls! The most notable and exciting thing about 2021 has clearly been the rise of the Model Y, which looks unprecedented.
Of course, the thing I’m especially proud about this quarter is that I nailed the total Tesla delivery numbers several months ago in one of my best forecasts ever. For more on that, see: “Tesla’s Q3 Deliveries (241,300) Just 1,300 (0.5%) More Than My April Forecast (240,000).”
As a final note, as far as why this growth is so fascinating and important, a commenter, Mark H, offered some great perspective underneath the above-mentioned article:
“Why do we geek out over the growth of Tesla? For one, we are witnessing real time something that hasn’t happened in 50 years, the successful launch of a new automobile company. That in itself is worth the excitement.
“To add to that, it is the first company that is completely electric, and is paving the road for more.
“Another compelling stat was that as Tesla closed the quarter with $240K, GM produced $440K. This once fledgling company is well on its way to change the world.
“With both Giga [Texas] and Berlin coming online shortly, there will be continued massive growth in 2022. Just as GM was down 30%, this growth really starts to take from others.”
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