BMW i3 Passes Tesla Model S in sales.
John Goreham's picture

BMW’s i3 just the latest EV to blow past Tesla in US sales

Despite the media and fan-boy hype, Tesla has dropped to 5th in monthly US electric vehicle sales rate. This time, the car to pass it is indeed stealing customers from the Tesla Model S' target demographic.

In the month of August BMW’s new i3 electric vehicle (EV) passed the Tesla Model S in US sales. One year ago Tesla was one of the top-selling EVs in the country. It has now dropped to 5th in year to date US EV sales. BMW, on the other hand introduced its i3 to the US market just four months ago. After its initial ramp up, it hit its stride this month and nearly doubled the sales rate of the Tesla Model S.

Tesla Model S and BMW i3 Sales Numbers
Inside EVs reports that Tesla sold about 600 cars in the US in August. Tesla tries as hard as possible to never let anyone know exactly how many cars it ships. However, the author of Inside EVs’ monthly report has been spot-on most months, and he goes back after Tesla is forced by law to reveal its shipments and makes minor adjustments to his tally. He is an EV advocate, so we have no reason to doubt his estimates.

BMW sold 1,025 i3 EVs in August. That is a very respectable number as EVs go, and the ramp by BMW has been at least as fast as the Leaf, Volt, or Model S. After a few months of sales in the mid-300s, the i3 campaign finally hit its stride. Like the Tesla launch, BMW has a large back-log of customer pre-orders to fill. It is hard to guess how the overall sales figures will end up for BMW, but for now it seems that people with money in their hands wanting an i3 is not a problem. Torque News did a poll and discovered that a large percentage of i3 buyers have owned one or even two EVs before. They consider the i3 a step up to a premium EV. That was Tesla's exclusive domain until about 4 months ago.

Want to see more exclusive BMW i3 Photos? Here they are!

Tesla Smoke and Mirrors
Tesla has grand plans, and this month will announce its giga-plant location. As of this writing, unconfirmed reports place it in Reno. The giga-factory is the “all-eggs-in-one-basket” manufacturing site at which Tesla plans to make batteries for electric vehicles on a large scale. Depending upon which news report, or fan-boy blogger you read, in two years Tesla will either be cornering the market on mid-size cars in the US or it will finishing the drywall on the Gigafactory. I have a feeling that any third model from Tesla will take longer than 24 months from now to begin any meaningful production.

In the meantime, Tesla’s long-delayed second model (or third if you count the Roadster), the X sport utility vehicle is now just about to launch. Tesla fans blamed the company’s ridiculously-low 500 units or so of July sales on the switchover shut-down that took about two weeks according Tesla. Now they will again blame a 9th week of nearly no sales on that reason, or say the cars are being sold elsewhere. Who cares? Every automaker sells globally, but the fact is that the US accounts for half of the planet’s EV sales. If you are not leading here, you are not leading.

BMW i3 Launch Challenges
To say that the elecronauts who stepped up to be born electric first and take the BMW i3 before the paint dried have suffered is an understatement. Check engine lights, myriad small issues, shortages of common replacement parts like windshields and tires, and the company’s first US recall of the i3 (for exactly 1 US car according to one source), have filled the screens of the i3 clubs and forums. Through it all, most owners remain completely psyched by the new vehicle. I see why. When I drove the i3, it was a revelation second only to the one I had after driving the Model S. These EVs work.

Leaf, Volt, Prius, Fusion Now Mainstream
Originally, Tesla was a EV kit-car converter of Lotus Elises. Then it was a super-car maker of large premium sports sedans. Along the way, or from the start, its founder and disciples decided that its main purpose was to bring EVs to the masses and create an affordable, mainstream EV that many people would want to buy at a reasonable price. That ship has sailed. The Nissan Leaf is now maintaining consistent sales in the low thousands per month, the Toyota Prius Plug-in is trading places with the Volt for second, and the Ford Fusion is coming close to breaking into the party.

Amid all the joyous announcements about laboratory breakthroughs that will make EVs more practical than gasoline cars, and amid the vapor-ware announcements about new Tesla models as yet unseen, there remains one truth. By the end of this year, there could very well be four companies consistently selling EVs in numbers higher than most of Volkswagen and Mazda’s gasoline powered models. Based on the sales numbers, it does not look like Tesla has two years to impress the US market with a practically-priced everyman’s EV. It may not have six months.

Related Stories:
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2015 Ford Fusion Energi's surprise move to number two spot in EV sales in June
BMW i3 least expensive EV to maintain in America

Main Story Image By John Goreham

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It makes sense that more of them would sell. The i3 costs roughly half as much as a Model S. I'm not sure how the ship has sailed for Tesla's low-cost model. The Leaf also sells well because it's cheaper, but the $35k Tesla Model 3 will have more than double the range and performance. This article ignores a lot.
When Tesla provides a beta unit of its Gen-3 car for any major publication to see and test, I will be among the first to cover that car's performance results. When the official EPA range numbers are available for it I will cover it. When Tesla shows us a Monroney sticker with the actual $35,000 MSRP I will sing its praises as a great value. For now, it is a car that has never been seen in person, to be made on a production line not yet built, using a battery made in a factory that is currently a pile of dirt, by a company that sells less cars each month in my state than my local Toyota salesperson (singular). If you check out this website under the Tesla tab, you will see plenty of forward looking, and optimistic stories about the Tesla brand overall. This story is about EV sales and Tesla is the number 5 EV automaker in America and its sales are trending downward.
Don't let the facts get in the way of a good BMW fanboy story. As a Tesla fanboy myself, I think it's great that BMW is in the EV game. That said, you need to get your numbers straight. Tesla is currently producing approx 1000 cars per week... That's 4000 per month (not 600 as you claim), and every one of those is sold... filling a large (and growing) backlog of orders. (see Tesla Motors, Inc. – Second Quarter 2014 Shareholder Letter) You got your numbers for August based on the fact that the Tesla production line was down much of August to retool to significantly increase production of both the Model-S and the soon to be released (not vaporware) Model X. BMW's own forecast for i3 is 21,000 for 2014, as opposed to Tesla's 35,000 Also, to be clear, i3 and Model S are very different cars in terms of performance (Tesla advantage), size (subjective), range (tesla advantage), style (subjective), materials (i3 is made of plastic), and price (i3 advantage, but due to much shorter range of i3), cost of of fast-charging ($0 for Tesla), etc. That said, both cars are advancing & validating EV's. There's plenty of room for both, and I hope they both (and any others) do exceedingly well!!!
My numbers come from the source cited and link provided. That link provides the exact production numbers form the Q1 and Q2 Tesla SEC filings. I think I addressed the July and August sales estimates for Tesla (500 and 600 units) pretty comprehensively in the story.
The numbers you got are misleading. TSLA reports quarterly deliveries... not month-to-month. Per their Q2 filing, "Record Q2 Model S production of 8,763 vehicles". Averaged per month, that's 8763/3=2921 units per month. You've got to look at this based on production, and not just US sales, as not all EV's are sold in all countries. TSLA could easily sell all of their production in US, but instead choose to balance it with international demand. So comparing production: BMW's own forecast for i3 is 21,000 for 2014, as opposed to Tesla's 35,000.
I understand the point. However, automotive reporting on US sales (not total sales by a manufacturer globally) are very common. Every automaker except Tesla breaks out the sales numbers separately. In fact, they have entirely different media pages for reporters. I also mention and explain in the story where the US sales numbers for Tesla came from, who the source is, and how accurate that source has been in the past. In the article I point out clearly that the points I am making are about US sales of EVs by company. Parse it however you like. Is Tesla number 5 or 4 in the US among EV manufactures, and how does the company rank globally? I think you might find the answer is the same. Some day, Tesla could again be number one in the US. In March and April 2013 it was. I (we) will report on that event if it happens, as so many outlets did then.
I think there is a misunderstanding. The Inside EV article shows US sales. Tesla's production is supply limited and growing sales in Europe and a new market in China have hurt their US sales but not their production. Retooling their only factory did hurt production in the short term.
Thanks Mike. Yes, the story is about US sales and production supply is definitely limited. I think I address this point in paragraph 5 of the story, but I have a feeling that there are those who imagine Tesla had a great production July and August and chose to sell so few cars in the US. And there are clearly those who just don't think Inside EVs is right. We'll know in about 5 weeks. Tesla will be forced by the SEC to tell us (enthusiasts, shareholders, EV advocates) what the shipments were. Maybe we will find that these estimates on the chart and in the story are wrong. They would have to be wrong by a factor of about 2 to make any difference to the story. - Look at the asterisk at the bottom of the Inside EVs chart. It also shows the Q1 and Q2 total International sales by Tesla which gives the chart more perspective.
Did you know that the Tesla's that caught fire was caused by the (failing) self-destruct system.
Tesla had to reset the factory for the model X, now that is done the model S production and very soon the model X production will shoot up very quickly and I predict go ahead of the Leader the LEAF. It may take until the middle of 2015 but it will happen. The GEN 3 is next and no matter what details will blast past all the others in months just like a Space X rocket. We will see the results but they have a great long range plan. Just their world wide Super Chargers are so far ahead of anyone else the others don't even count. 120 kW, over 112 in the USA and 63 in Europe and 20 in Asia. Nothing can compare to those numbers.
You're hopes for Tesla's future are very encouraging. The Tesla factory reset is discussed in the story. Tesla said it took 2 weeks out of the 9 the story talks about. What I take away from your Tesla projections is that all the other automakers' sales will stand still, despite the fact that Nissan and Ford's EV sales are growing by leaps and bounds and the BMW electric car family is rolling out just as planned. Why would only Tesla's sales have any hopes to grow (despite the fact that Tesla's US sales are in a dramatic decline)? You could be right, but every day that passes that prediction becomes more wrong. - On the Supercharger note: I just drove from the Providence, RI area to Monticello NY crossing (West) all of New England and entering the Northeast (NY is not in New England). Not a single Supercharger on the route. There are only 2 north of the NYC suburbs in all of the Northeastern US. I could care less how many superchargers Tesla builds in Upper Scubbobia. There are none of any practical use in almost all of New England.
Your anti-Telsa bias is coming through pretty strongly. These cars are very different in my opinion. I don't own either and have driven both as well as the Leaf. The i3 is quick and fun to drive but it's not nearly as nice as the Tesla. The Leaf is not as quick as the i3 but it has about the same utility and you can get one for about half the price of the BMW if you lease. For your money, the Leaf is a better deal than the i3 if you're willing to give up a couple seconds to 60mph. The Tesla is still in a league of it's own. It's really your only option if want an all electric car with good range.
John, you speak of fanbois, but your own bias and prejudice is showing. "Originally, Tesla was a EV kit-car converter of Lotus Elises. Then it was a super-car maker of large premium sports sedans. Along the way, or from the start, its founder and disciples decided that its main purpose was to bring EVs to the masses and create an affordable, mainstream EV that many people would want to buy at a reasonable price. That ship has sailed. The Nissan Leaf is now maintaining consistent sales in the low thousands per month, the Toyota Prius Plug-in is trading places with the Volt for second, and the Ford Fusion is coming close to breaking into the party." Musk had written that his goal was to change car companies to Electric BEFORE the first roadster shipped. In fact, it was before the start of a factory. That is easily documented and even found in the wayback machine. BUT, multiple things right and wrong with your article. 1) the leaf is the current cheap mainstream EV. Of course, Tesla does not offer a competing model, but a SINGULAR SUPERIOR model sells almost as much, until the last 2 months. 2) All of those competing with the Model S are sold all over the world and all over the states. Tesla is not even in 1/2 of the states yet, let alone 1/4 of the world. 3) what you missed in your was that the ICE models that compete against the Model S, have dropped in numbers. 4) the other thing missed was that the Model X is expected in about 2-3 months, and right now, the number of monthly orders for it is outstripping not just the S, but all other EVs, except the leaf and volt (and that might not be true). 5) You also missed that Chinese are protesting that the cars are not coming fast enough so there is little doubt that many more cars are being shipped to China right now. 6) did I mention that the X is coming and it appears to be outselling the S? SO much so, that Tesla is now getting nervous about it and striving to push the S. 7) Finally, my guess is that when the X is introduced, new updates on S will come through at the same time. And yes, many others suspect that as well.