Does Tesla Already Outsell Audi, BMW, Lexus & Mercedes-Benz?

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Tesla Model S cars parked on Santana Row, San Jose, CA, April 2013 [photo: Anton Wahlman]

Tesla Model S cars parked on Santana Row, San Jose, CA, April 2013 [photo: Anton Wahlman]

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The established German luxury brands--Mercedes-Benz and BMW--have sold cars in the U.S. for decades.

So how could Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] possibly be beating them at their own game?

The answer lies in how you define sales: It appears that the Tesla Model S electric sport sedan is outselling both the BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes-Benz S Class in what's called the "large luxury" segment of the U.S. market.

It also apparently outsells the Audi A8, the Lexus LS, and a handful of other full-size sedans from luxury or near-luxury makes.

Beating Audi, Benz, and BMW

Tesla said on April 1 that it delivered "more than 4,750" Model S cars during the first quarter of this year, from January 1 to March 31.

In comparison, here are the first-quarter sales for the large luxury competitors:

  • Audi A8:1,462
  • BMW 7-Series: 2,338
  • Lexus LS: 2,860
  • Mercedes-Benz S Class: 3,077

There is one car in the large luxury segment that outsold the Tesla Model S, however.

That's the 2013 Cadillac XTS, the newly introduced replacement for the previous DTS (itself derived from the old De Ville). Fully 7,130 XTSes were delivered from January through March.

However, we'd agree with commentators who suggest that, despite its strides in design, features, and technology, the Cadillac brand still doesn't compete head-to-head with the German luxury incumbents.

And we strongly doubt many Tesla Model S buyers considered an XTS as an alternative--or even know where their local Cadillac dealer is.

Segment vs brand

It's important to note, however, that this doesn't mean Tesla sold more cars than these brands.

It competes in only a single segment of the market, with one vehicle class.

The established luxury brands, on the other hand, offer many models in many segments--from compact sedans and crossovers to "sports activity coupes" and "four-door coupes" and a host of other types of vehicle, both standard and not-so-standard.

Tesla has said it might deliver 20,000 to 25,000 cars this year--not all of them in the U.S. For comparison purposes, here are the 2012 U.S. sales totals for the top luxury brands:

  • Audi: 139,310
  • BMW: 281,460
  • Cadillac: 149,782
  • Lexus: 132,741
  • Mercedes-Benz: 274,134

(Note that Mercedes-Benz and BMW have been arguing over who "sold" more and who delivered more last year.)

Tesla Model S outside High Gear Media office, Menlo Park, CA, March 2013 [photo: Eugene Lee]

Tesla Model S outside High Gear Media office, Menlo Park, CA, March 2013 [photo: Eugene Lee]

Enlarge Photo

Common in Silicon Valley

That said, Teslas are seemingly becoming ubiquitous in Silicon Valley, one of the most demanding, advanced, and visible car markets in the country.

Readers send Tesla photos to us from all over, but the ones from the San Francisco Bay Area are rife with not just one or two Teslas, but multiple Model Ses.

They often cluster at high-tech companies, as shown by a tweeted photo of a dozen Model S cars at Apple Computer.

And our cover photo, courtesy of reader and author Anton Wahlman, shows six Model Ses parked outside the shops on San Jose's prestigious Santana Row.

Yes, there's a Tesla Store there, but Wahlman swears none of those cars had distributor or dealer plates--meaning they were all privately owned.

Will it continue?

There remain questions, of course, about whether Tesla can keep up the pace, how fast it is chewing through its queue of reservations, and how quickly it can expand into Europe and Asia.

Still, Tesla beating BMW and Mercedes-Benz even in a single car class isn't necessarily something that might have been likely three years ago.

Do you think the story will be the same--the Model S will outsell the S Class and 7-Series in the U.S.--at the end of the year?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (23)
  1. It has been my contention for a while: the luxury car makers are in deep, deep doo-doo land. They've spent decades (a century in some cases) learning to make a car with the lowest possible "NVH" Noise Vibration and Harshness.

    Decades of fine engineering knowhow, careful fabrication and painstaking attention to detail are all rendered completely devalued when Renault can build a Fluence ZE in Turkey (Turkey!) that rivals any BMW 3 series, Audi A4 or Merc C class.

    At the upper end, with the huge margin S class barges, Tesla will eat them for breakfast too.

    All you have to do is take out the exploding bit at the front and the entire nature of the car changes to something so refined it costs thousands more to match.

  2. it's why i thought Fiskar had a good shot....

  3. The quietest, most refined car I have ever owned is… A Ford! I don't have a Model S but, between the Roadster, i-MiEV, ActiveE & Focus EV, the Focus tops the list as the most insanely quiet - nearly imperceptible motor/transmission noise, 1st class road manners & respectable freeway wind noise. Time to get out the decibel meter for a real world test - anyone have a posh Bentley/Rolls to go up against my Ford Focus?

  4. That shows the importance of an all-electric range close to that of gasoline cars (so that long, one-way [day-] trips are a reasonable expectation). If Elon actually gets it up to around 350-400 miles from a full charge (as Musk has said he believes can be a realistic goal) that could be approach-able, even assuming variations in driving "style".

  5. The sea change is happening. AAA just released it cost per mile for the average auto at $.60 per mile. Tesla is a luxury car. My car will cost $84,000 when I receive it in June. The cost per mile I'm calculate is around $.55 with average depreciation. That's crazy cheap for a luxury car. Usually they require more maintenance at higher than average cost. Usually, they require premium gas at higher than average cost. Not the Model S. The energy cost per mile is around .07 versus over .44 on average with large sedans.

    The most expensive car I've every purchase was half the cost of this car. But over five years, they cost about the same. An over 10 years, there is no comparison.

  6. When cost comparing numerous vehicles I created a spreadsheet to calculate fuel savings with an electric car... in my case Nissan Leaf. At my 7 cent/kWh rate, the Leaf will pay for itself in full in 6 years. That's compared to purchasing fuel at $4/gal in a 30mpg car.

  7. Sidebar: "The sea change is happening" in other areas as well. AAA Roadside Emergency vehicle assistance is offering Rapid Charging for EVs need a charge.

  8. I've been seeing a lot of Model Ss in my area, I seem to be seeing them just as much as I've seen the updated 7-series and current S-class. It's certainly starting to look like more people were waiting to go electric then some people may have expected. Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz need to get working on a Model S competitor soon, though they have been taking the cautious hatchback route so I think they most likely will have to play catch up with Tesla.

  9. The lesson here: Be very attentive to exactly WHICH words the press representatives use when they tell you something. Qualifying words make all the difference ;)

  10. People are easily manipulated.

    Great job at Plugincars BTW.

  11. I think the title of the article Anthony Ingram posted yesterday pretty much sums up the problem for Tesla's Teutonic competitors: "Worst Thing About The Tesla Model S? Driving Anything Else Afterwards".

    The smooth and instant power delivery of the electric drivetrain gives Tesla the edge over its competitors that still rely on the principle of controlled explosions for propulsion of their vehicles, no matter how refined they have made this rather crude concept appear.

    In combination with the quickly expanding supercharger network that offers free long range travel Tesla has a pretty compelling alternative for those still relying on internal combustion and pricey dino juice.

  12. Wish Tesla made a car that was more affordable.

  13. Those luxury brands better wake up soon. Once Tesla comes out with model X and the blue star sedan, it will take over the most of the luxury segment... And all the current luxury brand will have to fight over for the scraps unless they are coming out with their own competitive EVs.

    Not to mention that the average age of those buyers. Does anyone know the average age of the Tesla S buyers? From my personal experience, I am willing to bet that Tesla S buyers are younger in average than the S-series, 7 series, A8 and LS buyers...

  14. Good point that Model S may have relatively much appeal to younger people, but most cars in this class are bought by relatively old people, who may be less willing to accept that the ICE age is drawing to an end and sceptical towards automotive start ups offering these newfangled electric cars.

    So I don't think Tesla's luxury class rivals need to worry about being wiped out by Tesla any time soon, but I think the legal war against Tesla about its highly successful retail system indicates that the old regime is starting to get slightly nervous about Tesla's new found success. After all there were no lawsuits when Tesla was only paddling its relatively unsuccessful Roadster and all analysts still agreed that Tesla was unlikely to make it.

  15. Sure. But those luxury auto makers have to be somewhat concerned. Old people buy cars less often on average and it doesn't help that if they can't bring younger buyers into their showrooms... Once you go with Tesla, it will be hard to switch them out of anything electric...

  16. 5 words: Motor Has Three Moving Parts
    Simple, beautiful, & zero to 60 in 4.something.

  17. Hi, currant volt owner here...just figured first year "mpg" at 87!!! When I can test drive a Tesla, I will most likely buy one.
    Volt is a cheaper way to test the EV territory and lessen anxiety range!
    Just plug in every night, and you're good to go...cheaper, and much cleaner...especially when you have solar panels to off-set coal fired electricity!
    If you can, give this new technology a try. The volt is super fast, and super it!

  18. Please! Not 'Model Ses' nor 'Model Ss' but ' Model S' '. Thank you! MW

  19. @Martin: No, sorry. The Green Car Reports copy rule states that you spell plurals in the most pronounceable way: Prius ---> Priuses, Model S ---> Model Ses.

    While reasonable minds (and/or less reasonable copy editors) may differ, those are the rules and we're sticking to them.

  20. I'd be willing to bet that the Model X will compete as well when they start delivering in mid-2014. They would be competing against the BMW X5, Audi Q7, etc., favorably, I think.

  21. @Thomas: Actually, the Tesla Model X has now been delayed to "late 2014"--which likely means volume deliveries in early 2015.

  22. The Tesla Model S has become a daily, common sighting in my area of Metro LA. I think every Fisker Karma owner unplugged his/her Karma and plugged into a Model S as soon as they could get their hands on one. From Santa Monica to Downtown I see them daily. I've seen the Model S in Palm Springs and on the highway between LA & PS. The big battery pack seems to have assuaged range anxiety and the Tesla's large interior & cargo capacity make it much more than a Karma brick with barely enough room for two adults. The two COTYs didn't hurt the Tesla's allure either.

    Around LA, spending $100k+ on an executive sedan is nothing, so the big battery Model S price tag is considered reasonable. I'm sure it's the same for Silicone Valley.

  23. I believe the Model S will still be outselling these cars by year's end. One of the main draws of the full-size luxury market is technology. Lexus, BMW, Mercedes and Audi will one-up each other with every redesign, but wind up emulating each other with features, to where the driving and interface experience of each becomes more and more similar every year. With the Model S, you have a car with a completely new drivetrain, an outrageous 17-inch touchscreen interface, a unique shape for the segment, and handling/acceleration on par with the performance-oriented versions of its competitors, for a lower cost. It's appeal goes well beyond the early adopters. This is a whole new direction for the auto industry, and people want to be a part of it~

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