Where Would America Be Without Tesla?
Kevin Rooke
April 25, 2020

2019 will go down as a breakout year for Tesla. It was the year that people all over the world began noticing Tesla vehicles covering their city streets, and the year Tesla proved Wall Street analysts wrong - again.

Tesla is clearly winning the EV race, and all this success from Tesla has forced the world’s other automakers to beef up their EV offerings in response. In 2012, there were only 9 EV models for sale in America, now there are 46.

EV unit sales have increased in America too, going from 52,607 in 2012 to 329,266 in 2019.

On the surface, this seems like great progress. EV unit sales and available vehicles have seen 5x growth in just 7 years. But if we dig a little deeper, it’s clear that Tesla's success is skewing the data for the entire EV industry. The rest of Tesla's EV competition isn't doing as well as one might think.

Let’s explore the growth of Tesla and all other EVs in America side by side. We’ll examine:

All the data below comes from InsideEVs, and any references to EVs includes both BEVs and PHEVs.

The Growth of EV Models In America

Tesla only sells 3 units in America today, the Model S, 3, and X. This is up from one unit in 2012, and two in 2015. But such a small sample doesn’t tell us anything interesting about Tesla.

On the other hand, there were only 8 non-Tesla EVs in America in 2012. By the end of 2019, there were 43. That’s a 5x improvement in available EV models in just 7 years. A promising sign, but we need to dig further. The number of EV models tells us nothing about the unit sales of those EV models.

Tesla EVs sold in America vs. non-Tesla EVs sold in America


The Unit Sales of EV Models in America

Tesla sold 2,650 Model S units in 2012, and 192,250 S, 3, and X units in 2019. That’s a 72x increase in EVs sold, and Tesla’s sales are now responsible for 58% of all EV sales in America.

Non-Tesla EVs have seen growth too, but the growth rate is anemic in comparison to Tesla’s. In 2012, 49,957 non-Tesla EVs were sold in America. That figure had grown to 137,016 sales by 2019, but growth has stagnated in recent years.


EV unit sales in America: Tesla vs. Everyone


Average Unit Sales of EV Models In America

Now let’s combine the two metrics above. Dividing Tesla’s yearly sales in America by the number of available Tesla models gives us an average number of vehicles sold per model. While Tesla’s sample size is small, it’s clear that every Tesla model produced to date has been a hit. The average Tesla vehicle sold 64,083 units last year (although this is heavily skewed by 158,925 Model 3 sales). Still, no Tesla vehicle sold fewer than 14,000 units in 2019.

Annual US EV sales per Model Tesla


How does this compare to non-Tesla EVs? In 2012, the average non-Tesla EV generated 6,245 sales (although there were only 8 EV models in the sample). By 2019, however, the average non-Tesla EV only generated 3,186 unit sales. This data point helps us really understand what’s going on. America’s non-Tesla EV industry is expanding - but only in the number of models available. Each model is actually generating *fewer* sales than they were in 2012.


And if that data point isn’t enough to convince you that non-Tesla EVs haven’t found product-market fit, this next one certainly will.

The Best Selling EV Models In America

There are only 2 EV models in America that have ever sold more than 30,000 units in a calendar year. Obviously the Model 3 is one of the two models, but the other one will surprise many readers.

The other model didn’t come from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, or 2015. It’s the 2014 Nissan Leaf. It sold 30,200 units in America that year, as a 100% battery EV with an EPA rated range of just 84 miles! That’s just 25% of the Model 3 LR’s range! But despite the awful range of the 2014 Nissan Leaf, no automaker (except Tesla) has figured out how to top the sales of that vehicle in 5 years.


In 2019, the top selling EV was the Toyota Prius Prime with 23,630 sales, but it is a PHEV, and relies on a gas tank for driving any distance over 25 miles. The best-selling battery EV in 2019 was the Chevrolet Bolt with just 16,418 unit sales - roughly half the sales volume of the 2014 Leaf.

So while America’s EV industry is certainly growing, it’s irresponsible to use that fact as a blanket statement across all automakers. The truth is that Tesla is responsible for a majority of America’s EV sales, and no other automaker has released a vehicle that has surpassed the sales volume of the 2014 Nissan Leaf.

In fact, CleanTechnica estimates that Tesla sold 27,000 Model 3 cars in America during December 2019. No other automaker can sell 27,000 EVs in an entire year!

Until that changes, I’m quite skeptical of the EV strategies of traditional automakers. There was a time when we took ICE automakers at their word, and accepted the idea that “competition is coming” for Tesla. But Tesla has been producing EVs for over a decade and still no automaker can compete. The burden of proof has shifted from Tesla to all other automakers. Everyone talks about their “Tesla killer” vehicle, but nobody has shown one yet.

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