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As EV sales stall, Tesla outsells the rest of the field combined

On a dollar basis, Tesla Motors is outselling the entire rest of North American EV market combined. This trend is not poised to slow, but rather accelerate.

Electric vehicles are becoming much more affordable due to a combination of manufacturer price reductions and growing government tax incentives. That could soon boost sales of the “affordable” EVs, but as of now the trend has not emerged. Since this is a story that will in some ways cast EVs in a poor light we will point to Inside EVs as our primary source for Chevy, Nissan, Ford, Fiat, and Honda EV sales numbers. We take our Tesla sales estimates from a combination of sources including the VINs being issued to new customers as of this month. In any case, the Tesla sales figures are firm through last October 1st based on its SEC filing. The truth is that all EV sales rates are stalled right now and have been for over a year. Meanwhile, over the past 18 months cars in general just had one of their biggest sales jumps in the past quarter century.

Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf Sales
Since Q3 2012 when the Leaf production came fully on-line its sales have not increased on a quarterly or monthly average basis. The Chevy Volt is similar. Its 2013 sales will be pretty much the same as 2012 when the final tally comes out next week. The run rate of both is around 23,000 units per year. Both the Leaf and Volt are eying more capacity. That does not necessarily mean they will sell more cars. However, the price cuts both have made recently should help increase interest. In any case, as of now, after about 2 years in the market the sales numbers show that both of these models are flat and have been since the middle of 2012.

Fiat 500 EV, Ford Focus EV Sales
The Fiat 500 EV, and the Focus EV don’t add up to a hill of beans. In fact, they are not even a mound, pile, or small stack of beans. According to all the sources we can find (these automakers don’t break out the EV sales yet) each of these three models sells or leases about 125 per month of these new very small EVs. At that rate these two models make up the second tier of EVs along with the Smart EV which sells at about the same rate. Sales are not increasing.

Honda Fit EV, Chevy Spark EV and All the Rest
Honda sold or more accurately, leased 23 Fit EVs last month. Can we stop pretending the Honda Fit EV is an actual car now and just include it with all the other kit cars that automakers are compiling from existing car models that already sell but can shoehorn a battery pack into? Chevy made a lot of noise about its Spark EVs acceleration numbers, which are better than all but Tesla to about 30 mph. Big deal, they sold 87 in November.

Tesla Outsells the Entire Market

Leaf is the only full production pure EV in the US market except Tesla. The Volt is an extended range hybrid electric vehicle. Not that that's a bad thing. We are just trying to emphasize that in terms of cars that run only on electricity there are really just two for sale in the US and one is a Leaf. Tesla Motors makes the only other one. That will change in 2014 when Tesla launches the new Model X. As of today, Tesla’s sales are flat since about 15 months ago. Each quarter the company builds and sells about 5,000 cars. The Tesla Model S sells for an average of about $90,000. I could get all tricky with the math here, but since the Leaf and Volt sell at about that same rate and since one of each together cost less than $65,000 it is obvious that in today’s static EV market, Tesla dominates EV sales in terms of dollars.

It is also important to remember that Tesla does not advertise on TV or in print and that Tesla’s sales dollars are Tesla’s since it sells direct. Chevy and Nissan share the make-believe profits on the Volt and Leaf with their dealers. Does anyone really think that Nissan and Chevy make any money on their EVs after the dealer profit and marketing costs are subtracted out? No they don’t.

Tesla has customers who are waiting in line to get cars. The US market and the world just can’t seem to get enough of them. We follow the forums and customers are still reporting just getting cars after long waits. And the Tesla fever is not just an American thing. Europeans are completely crazy about the Tesla Model S and there are no European EVs that compete with it, and none are on the way any time soon. Tesla just opened its store in Estonia. How is the Honda Fit EV doing in Estonia this week? How’s the Audi EV doing?

Tesla is planning to boost production in 2014. From where we stand looking, it seems like the gap between Tesla sales dollars for EVs and the whole rest of the EV market is about to get bigger, not smaller.

Photo courtesy of the Tesla public site.


Jouni Valkonen (not verified)    December 28, 2013 - 8:56AM

Thanks, very good article! This shows the power what Tesla is doing that they are making an electric vehicle as desirable car. Large car companies instead are introducing uncompelling golf carts that can live only from government subsidies.

Tesla has shown that right way is to first introduce EV on high end premium car markets. Then as this creates demand for batteries, their cost gets down and EVs can compete with larger and larger premium market segment. Until finally a tipping point is achieved when electric cars do really make sense at mid and lower range price category.

This way it should be done that more expensive vehicles are electrified first, but of course big car companies do not want this, because premium ICE cars are most profitable cars. Traditional car manufacturers do not want a change. This is why we needed Tesla to lead the way.

John Goreham    December 28, 2013 - 10:27AM

Thank you for your kind words. I agree that from my own analysis it seems that the most profitable vehicles that GM, Ford, and Fiat (Ram) make are luxury ginormous trucks with plush interiors and fancy chrome wheels. The most popular selling single nameplate in America, F-150 still gets 15 MPG city in its most popular configuration.

Tweaker (not verified)    December 28, 2013 - 2:52PM

This headline/article is grossly misleading. Reading the headline, it would appear Tesla is outselling everybody combined. This is not so. The Leaf alone outsells the Tesla. And since Tesla sales include foreign sales, there is no argument that more people are buying Leafs in the US than Teslas. Subtly including the line "on a dollar basis" does not detract from the fact that those who clicked on the headline have been duped.

Dave - Phoenix (not verified)    December 31, 2013 - 2:09PM

In reply to by John Goreham

It matters because selling 1 luxury EV at 4 times the cost only has 1/4 the impact on reducing pollution, carbon emissions and US energy independence compared to selling 4 main stream priced EV's at 1/4 the cost.

If you only sell to one percenters, you will only have 1% impact. Hardly worth writing about in my opinion...

John Goreham    January 1, 2014 - 10:27AM

In reply to by Dave - Phoenix (not verified)

Dave, you make an excellent point. The point is that low volume green cars don't do much to help the environment compared to much larger selling cars that save more gasoline from being burned. You may like this story in which I make that point: - - Here is another with that theme: - Thanks for adding your perspective.

Jouni Valkonen (not verified)    December 29, 2013 - 5:34AM

In reply to by Tweaker (not verified)

Tweaker, the correct question is how many dollars Nissan is making money for each sold LEAF. Tesla is making some $24 000 for each S and this figure is pretty hard to beat.

John B (not verified)    December 29, 2013 - 9:21AM

In reply to by Jouni Valkonen (not verified)

One thing to consider is how many Tesla buyers did so with gains from their Tesla stock. The stock cannot grow forever and the reservations from 2 years ago are being worked through for Europe now. There is a slow and steady growth to the EV movement. Don't get too excited for 2014 as EV sales should not reach the growth-rate that we saw in 2012 and 2013 except in incentive-rich countries in Europe such as Norway, Denmark and Holland (which itself is phasing out one of their EV incentives at the end of 2013).

Jouni Valkonen (not verified)    December 29, 2013 - 8:48PM

In reply to by John B (not verified)

John, good thing about Tesla is that it does not depend on incentives, because it is better car than comparable ICE cars. Tesla's strategy is to make cars that are attractive as such and people buy them with or without incentives.

leaf driver (not verified)    January 8, 2014 - 2:57AM

In reply to by Jouni Valkonen (not verified)

Yes Tesla excels as rich person's car. However, for ev to have real impact, it must be a vehicle for masses. Nissan leaf is far better ev in that respect than tesla. I drove leaf for nearly a year, and it's great for my daily use, and saves me lot of money. I expect that in few years, cost of fuel savings will make it cheaper to own than any mid-sized gasoline car. There is no way that tesla can save money for an average american who cannot afford high end luxury car

John Goreham    January 8, 2014 - 10:05AM

Well said "Leaf driver." I have written a few stories expanding on this exact point. So I agree. However, I have since spoken to a pretty fair number of Tesla owners. Most don't consider themselves "rich." I will not disagree with them out of respect for their opinion. Regardless, the goal of Tesla is to offer an "engaging" EV near the price range that the Leaf entered the market at. The plan is to offer this car (called Gen III or Model E) in 2015 as a prototype and in late '16 or '17 as a production model. That will be interesting to see.
- - On another note, why do you think the Leaf's sales rate has been flat since about mid to late-2012?