The Tesla Model 3 was one of the best-selling electric cars in the world in 2018, according to data firm JATO Dynamics. JATO affirms the Silicon Valley automaker sold about 138,000 Model 3s, defeating contenders like the flagship EV of state-owned Chinese auto maker BAIC (92,000) and the Nissan Leaf (85,000). In total, Tesla sold more EVs than any other auto maker in 2018, JATO reports.
The news comes at the exact time that Tesla is beginning shipping of the Model 3 in China, the largest market in the world for electric cars. Tesla also recently started out delivering Model 3s in Europe for the first time ever. Adding those new markets for the Model 3 is intended to support Tesla increase sales of the car by more than 100,000 in 2019, according to recent estimations from the company.
Tesla produces sales and production figures every quarter, and it has previously touted the Model 3’s popularity compared to other midsized premium sedans from auto manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi. But as Bertel Schmitt at The Drive points out, JATO produces its figures using vehicle registrations, which gives the numbers a more solid baseline.
“Tesla’s tapping new markets for the Model 3 in 2019, but there are queries about demand”
While Tesla plans to nearly double Model 3 production in 2019, the path to the top sales spot could be more difficult this year than it was in 2018. (Which is saying something, considering 2018 was the year of “production hell” and “delivery logistics hell.”) New markets like China and Europe will give a boost to sales. But some experts are wary that marketplace demand for the Model 3 is drying up in the US, because Tesla’s cars are no longer qualified for the full $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit, and the company still hasn’t started out the production of the $35,000 “standard range” version.
Tesla is also grappling with level of quality issues and complications with service that appear to be directly tied to its massive ramp up in Model 3 production and sales.
Tesla will encounter more all-electric competition this year, too, though it might not come from the most familiar names. Audi has been working with a slow rollout of its E-Tron SUV, and Jaguar has experienced similar challenges with the I-Pace. Mercedes-Benz is reportedly slowing down the first deliveries of its own electric SUV, the EQC, as well.
Instead, Tesla’s major threat to the EV throne will likely come from China, including some of the companies that are already nipping at its heels. China’s largest auto manufacturers, like BAIC, also make smaller electric cars that are far more cost-effective than anything Tesla offers, and they have their own production facilities in China. Tesla needs to get its Shanghai Gigafactory up and running in order to make and sell Model 3s that can avoid the country’s 25 percent import tax, and that won’t come up until the end of this year at the earliest.
In the mean time, Chinese EV startup NIO sold 11,000 cars in its first few months of production last year. The company has set its sights on offering customers with a Tesla-style experience, from its technology-filled cars, to building sleek stores where they’re sold. NIO has big ambitions – it recently went public in the United States – and will declare production and sales goals for 2019 in two weeks.
Nonetheless, Tesla has more than the Model 3. The company’s Model S sedan came in fifth on JATO’s list with 48,000 sold last year. The company completed the year with about 230,000 total electric cars sold, far above BAIC’s second-place sales figures of 152,000. Warren Buffett-backed auto maker BYD came in third with 95,000 EVs sold last year, just ahead of Nissan, which marketed 92,000 total electric vehicles.
Tesla also plans to reveal the Model Y crossover SUV later this year (potentially in China), with full volume production scheduled for 2020. By that time though, Volkswagen, Porsche, and even Ford will have their first serious EVs in production as well.