Tesla Paced a Slower Pack in January Electric Vehicle Sales

Tesla Model S, photographed in Switzerland by James Lipman // jameslipman.com
Source: Tesla

Despite a 14% jump in vehicle sales for the auto industry as a whole, January 2015 was the worst month for plug-in electric vehicle sales in a calendar year. Nonetheless, owing to several strong new battery cars on the market, pure EVs showed gains over the prior year. In great news for Tesla, the automaker’s Model S sales likely beat the Nissan Leaf and led the pack by a considerable margin.

Low EV volumes across the board

In a system akin to ranking College Football teams, we arrive at our conclusions about Tesla — and thus the entire industry — sales based on a consensus of reliable sources (Elon Musk has said Tesla does not publish monthly sales because journalists read too much into the numbers). CleanTechnica estimated Model S sales at 1,500 units while HybridCars.com counted 1,300 units and InsideEVs.com 1,100 units.

Each estimate put Tesla over the 1,070 confirmed Nissan Leaf sales, which would break the Leaf’s remarkable run atop the leader board after it broke the EV sales record in 2014. The Leaf total put Nissan’s EV at a 14.5% downswing compared to January 2014, making it the first time in 23 months it did not break its own sales record. Otherwise, the BMW i3’s 870 units, Mercedes B-Class’s 240 units, and Volkswagen e-Golf’s 181 units picked up the slack for all-electric vehicles, making the month a gain of 7% for plug-ins by InsideEVs.com’s estimates.

Hybrids down in January

Standard hybrids by American automakers took a beating in January. With cheap gas making the higher-priced vehicles a tough sell, Ford’s green cars were down 27% on the month, while GM’s green line fell over 42%. With a refreshed Chevy Volt on the way later in 2015, consumers appeared less than enthusiastic about the current model (it fell 41%). Japanese manufacturers fared better.

cayenne s e hybrid
Source: Porsche

Toyota managed to hold steady with Prius sales while Camry hybrid sales rose 8% to 2,143 units on the month. Compared to the entire GM green car lineup’s sales (1,255 units), the Camry’s performance looms even larger.

Another gainer was the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid, a plug-in crossover that will test the viability in a budding market. Plug-in Cayennes posted 83 sales in the crossover’s third month in dealerships. Its previous totals of 45 units in November and 55 units in December put it on par with the Cadillac ELR’s entry to the market in 2014. However, the plug-in Cayenne is selling stronger that the Mercedes B-Class did during a tougher period for auto sales.

Future plug-in SUVs and crossovers include the Audi Q7 PHEV, the BMW X5 plug-in, the Mercedes GLE, and the pure-electric Tesla Model X. All are expected to debut in 2015.

Sitting atop the leaderboard is good in any month, so Tesla’s accomplishment is worth noting, if the numbers are anywhere near accurate. The report from February should shed light on whether this slump becomes a trend in the era of low gas prices.