Update: Have Tesla Model S, Model X electric-car sales plateaued? Page 2

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2017 Tesla Model S

2017 Tesla Model S

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In early July this year, Reuters published Model S sales data for California, based on numbers through April obtained from data provider IHS Markit.

They showed that Tesla Model S registrations in the state for April fell 24 percent, to 2,177 from 2,867, while national sales fell almost 10 percent, to 3,911 from 4,334.

Reuters quoted an industry analyst noting that a single month's data was not necessarily an indicator of much.

Separate data reported by Reuters indicates that U.S. registrations of both Tesla models during the first four months of the year rose to 15,288 from 10,937, and registrations in California rose to 6,926 from 5,804.

"In percentage terms Model S growth peaked in February," Reuters wrote, "decelerated in March and turned negative in April in California."

2016 Tesla Model X with 2011 Tesla Roadster Sport, photographed by owner Bonnie Norman

2016 Tesla Model X with 2011 Tesla Roadster Sport, photographed by owner Bonnie Norman

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In the Reuters report, Tesla responded that its global second-quarter deliveries of 22,000 cars were more than 50 percent higher than last year's second quarter.

That's undeniably true, although since then the pace of Tesla's global deliveries has been flat.

Opaque delivery data

Tesla's sales are especially opaque, because the company refuses either to provide monthly figures or to break out its quarterly delivery figures by country.

It has given various explanations over the years for this practice, from, "Our investors don't care if we release that data" to "The media would just misinterpret it."

The company is widely thought to make a concerted push for completed sales in the third month of each quarter, to get the numbers up for its quarterly results.

A conventional car company would be cuing up an entirely new Model S by now, likely to be unveiled within the next year and launched as a 2018 or 2019 model.

Tesla Motors, of course, is anything but a conventional car company.

2017 Tesla Model 3, in photo tweeted by Elon Musk on July 9, 2017

2017 Tesla Model 3, in photo tweeted by Elon Musk on July 9, 2017

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Priority: Model 3

For the next few years, it must focus on expanding its lineup with far higher volumes of the more affordable Model 3 sedan, followed by a Model Y crossover utility vehicle (which will now apparently be built on different underpinnings, according to Musk). 

Considering the clear evidence of a global sales plateau, however, it's also worth noting that early expectations for the Model X seem to have fallen somewhat short.

Musk once suggested that its electric SUV might come to outsell the Model S, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

In its shareholder letter on the 2016 results, the company offered some positive news: it said its net orders for the Models S and X were 49 percent higher than the same period last year.

The company gave no actual numbers, leaving the claim unsupported. But there's important context missing there.

Tesla Motors production line for Tesla Model S, Fremont, California

Tesla Motors production line for Tesla Model S, Fremont, California

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The Model X struggled into production late in 2015, and by early 2016, many buyers who had put down deposits for the electric crossover were faced with a purchase decision.

By that time, full information on Model X features, specifications, and pricing had been released.

The lack of fold-flat second-row seats and various other concerns may well have produced quite a few cancellations among that pool of depositors in the car's early months.

In time, Tesla rectified the oversight: it is now possible to fold the second row of seats entirely flat in 5- and 7-seat Model X configurations, though not in the 6-seat version with individual second-row seats.

Tesla stopped releasing deposit numbers almost three years ago, but its 49-percent year-over-year growth statistic is likely compared to a base number that reflected some or many of those cancellations.

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