How Chevrolet Volt Sales Crushed Tesla in October

2017 Chevy Volt
After months of Tesla dominating, Chevrolet Volt sales got back in the plug-in race | General Motors

We follow the electric vehicle sales race pretty closely here. Earlier in 2016, we even suggested the Chevrolet Volt had a shot at catching Tesla Model S as America’s best-selling plug-in by the end of the year. Indeed, the race was too close to call. Then Model S posted record sales and catapulted way ahead of Volt by the time September arrived.

After a shift in production for Tesla, the pendulum swung back in GM’s favor in October. According to InsideEVs, Volt (2,191 units) led the segment and outsold Tesla’s flagship sedan (925 units, estimated) by more than double. In fact, Chevy’s EV with range extender beat both Model S and Model X (725 units, estimated) combined.

Volt now the steadiest seller

2017 chevrolet volt
2017 Chevrolet Volt | General Motors

While Tesla sales fluctuate wildly depending on the month in the quarter and other issues affecting production, Chevy is consistently stocking dealerships with new models. As a result, Volt sales are remarkably steady:

  • July: 2,406 units
  • August: 2,081 units
  • September: 2,031 units
  • October: 2,191 units

Tesla does not have the same capacity for consistency, and it has hurt the EV maker with production goals in October and in prior quarters.

Model S production shifts

View of a 2016 Tesla Model S from the side
2016 Tesla Model S | Tesla

Though Tesla had a record for deliveries in the third quarter, Model S production has had many peaks and valleys in 2016. U.S. sales hit 4,350 units in September only to drop nearly 80% in October. Previously, the 1,200 deliveries in May gave way to 3,700 in June. According to InsideEVs, the problem in October was related to the self-driving hardware the automaker announced would go into every new vehicle.

By the second week of the month, production had to go temporarily on hold to accommodate the change in vehicle configuration and adjust to any changes in orders. These self-driving upgrades, once they went public, became an issue on the production line, per InsideEVs sources. Changing the auto industry at the speed of light is breathtaking for Tesla fans and industry observers, but it creates issue with the nuts and bolts of assembly lines.

Model X in the crosshairs

2016 Tesla Model X
As with Model S, Model X production was slowed by the self-driving hardware roll-out | Tesla

What happened to Model S also happened to Model X in October. Being the start of the fourth quarter, Tesla would focus on deliveries to foreign markets, but the shift toward new hardware and other upgrades meant production would slow for the middle of the month. That accounts for the big difference between September (3,200 units) and October (750 units).

Auto industry observers who doubt Tesla say months like these are evidence the company will take longer than expected with development of the Model 3 sedan. Chevrolet is already moving the Bolt EV down assembly lines in Michigan. We don’t know when we’ll even see the finished product from Tesla, let alone when production will start.

For now, GM may have an enthusiasm gap as far its affordable, long-range EV is concerned, but to borrow a phrase from political pundits, the General’s ground game is superior to Tesla’s. In the short term, it gives Chevy an advantage, though it’s unlikely to hold. No matter what happens, Model S will be America’s best-selling plug-in vehicle this year and should top the Nissan Leaf’s sales record (30,200 units) by the end of December.

Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY