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Tesla Is the Second Most Popular Used EV - Here's Why The Nissan Leaf Beats It In Most EV-Target States

Tesla's Model S is the second most popular used electric vehicle in America behind the Nissan Leaf. We break down where the Model S is the most popular and where the leaf leads in used EV sales. One hint: California is a surprise.

In the American used electric vehicle market, Tesla's Model S sedan is number two overall in sales, and trails the Nissan Leaf in the largest EV state of California. Tesla is leading the pack with new electric vehicle sales as overall EV adoption in America has slowed from its previous more rapid pace. The Model 3 from Tesla remains the only high volume electric vehicle in the U.S. market as far as we know. Tesla won't say. It lumps sales of the Model 3 and Model Y together, and doesn't like to reveal which markets get new vehicle inventory.

These facts and more were revealed by a new study. It looked at data from over 54,000 used EV sales from 2019 to 2020. The study focused closely on the 25 states where EV adoption has been the most robust.

Related Story: Tesla Model S, Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius Named Best Used Green Cars For 2020

One reason that the Model S is second to the Leaf is that they occupy entirely separate market segments. “Despite Tesla’s growth in the EV market, the Nissan LEAF is more popular among used electric vehicle buyers, comprising 27.7 percent of sales, while the Tesla Model S accounts for 17.8 percent,” said Karl Brauer, Executive Analyst at*. “This is likely due to the LEAF’s affordability with a used car price of $13,054 compared to a used Tesla Model S at $48,996, as well as its brand recognition as the first mass-market EV that’s been on the market for a decade.”

California is by far the state with the most electric vehicles. Although Tesla's Elon Musk has vowed to move out of the tax and regulation-burdened state, California remains home to Tesla's headquarters and oldest factory. “California has led the charge with green vehicle adoption driven by its Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program, which has been adopted by other states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Brauer. "This has led to a large market and therefore more competition for electric cars in California, as seen by the fact that the state's share of Nissan LEAFs is 21.8 percent, lower than all other states where the LEAF is the most popular used EV."

The Leaf is most dominant in Hawaii, where the Nissan model captures 61.3 percent of the used EV market. We found it interesting that Hawaii is the third-highest state for used EV sales overall. It really shouldn't be a surprise. "Hawaii generally has the highest gas prices in the country, so car shoppers have the added incentive to purchase electric vehicles,” said Brauer.

The study concluded that Illinois is the state with the highest share of Tesla Model S vehicles with 33.8 percent, with Texas a close second with 33.0 percent. “Illinois doubled its gas tax in 2019 from 19 cents to 38 cents per gallon, which incentivizes drivers to purchase an EV,” said Brauer. “Dallas, Chicago, and Houston are the top three markets for used Tesla Model S sales, which contributes to the popularity of these vehicles across those states.”

Related Story: 4 Reasons Used Tesla Model 3 Cars Are So Expensive - And When It Will Change

Those who view the Tesla Model 3 as the leader in all things electric aren't wrong, they are just early. Tesla only began delivering Model 3 cars in volume less than two years ago. They have not yet had time with their first owners to be traded in or sold on as used cars. If you are a fan of the Model 3 and want a used one, be patient. The Model 3 will dominate this list of used EVs in less than three years.

Check out the full study at Look below the text for a listing of the top-three used EVs by state.

*Source Note: Automotive industry veteran Karl Brauer serves as the executive analyst for Prior to iSeeCars, Brauer was the executive publisher for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, the senior director of industry insights at Kelley Blue Book, chief executive officer of Total Car Score, and the editor in chief of Brauer was also the first internet-based automotive journalist invited to join the 50-person jury for the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY) in 2003, and he continues to serve as a juror and member of NACTOY’s six-person board of directors.

John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. Following his engineering program, John also completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin

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I think that top reasons for the Leaf's used car EV sales success are depreciation, price and availability. Nissan is a major, worldwide brand. And the Leaf has been one of the top selling EVs for years now. And with government subsidies and state incentives, the new car, sub $40K price dropped to net-$30K-$18K new. But then when you can buy a new one for say $20K, good luck in trying to sell your 3 year old one for $35K. And so many were leased that when the leases all came up in 1-3 years, even fewer people were going to pay $35K to buy out their leases. So they have been flooding the market for years with ever-decreasing prices. You can find a used Leaf that is less than 10 years old, with under 60K miles for around $5K! And only 5 year old Leafs with less than 50K miles can be had for under $7K. Whereas a similar year/condition/mileage Honda Civic will probably cost almost twice as much. That is some serious buyer's incentive, especially considering the low maintenance and operating costs of EVs. And it's a sweeter deal for people who have a short commute, and the ability to charge up at home. Now for Tesla, that same 5 year old Model S with less than 60K miles is going to be at least $36K+ simply because they were much more expensive cars when new, and their depreciation is not as harsh (being about the same as other near luxury used cars of a similar year). But as you mention, as more used Teslas enter the market for resale, and so many (much cheaper when new) Model 3s start flooding the used market over the next 3-5 years, then the used Tesla prices will start dropping to more affordable levels. And when the new $25K Tesla models debut, it will drop used Tesla prices even further (if not down to Leaf, Fiat 500, BMW i3) basement level prices. But for used EV buyers, this is all great news. Because EVs have been associated with being expensive, with limited capability. But being relatively cheap to buy and over time much more common on the used car market, EVs are taking off in a second wave because they represent real price/capability value, for those buyers that are a good fit for an EV.