Tesla’s Record September Rewrote the Book on Electric Car Sales

Tesla Model S featured with Powerwall
No electric car maker ever had a sales month like Tesla did in September | Tesla

We’ve been pointing out the many electric vehicle sales records on the board in 2016. Nearly every month established a new high for the plug-in segment in the U.S., and June was best on the books. Still, Tesla had yet to have that breakout sales showing that rattled an industry built on gasoline. In September, things changed. Tesla not only shattered EV sales records on every level; it also outsold 13 long-established brands, including Porsche, Mitsubishi, and Volvo.

Let’s start with the electric car competition first. InsideEVs estimates Tesla delivered 4,350 Model S sedans and 3,200 Model X SUVs in September. Both are record totals for Tesla; Model S’s total is the highest ever for plug-in vehicle; and as a brand Tesla more than doubled the best EV sales by any other automaker in America. Compared to the best Chevy Volt month in history (2,511), Model S sold 73% better. Overall, Tesla reached 24,500 deliveries worldwide.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 05: Tesla vehicles sit parked outside of a new Tesla showroom and service center in Red Hook, Brooklyn on July 5, 2016 in New York City. The electric car company and its CEO and founder Elon Musk have come under increasing scrutiny following a crash of one of its electric cars while using the controversial autopilot service. Joshua Brown crashed and died in Florida on May 7 in a Tesla car that was operating on autopilot, which means that Brown's hands were not on the steering wheel.
Tesla vehicles sit parked outside of a new Tesla showroom in Red Hook, Brooklyn | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

But Tesla’s record September was the most noteworthy event of the third quarter. Following a tradition of pushing out higher volumes before Q3 ended, Tesla charged closer to its 2016 production goals with its best month ever and in the process knocked out a long list of renowned car brands. Compared to Mitsubishi (7,191), Volvo (5,615), and Porsche (4,479), Tesla won handily. Land Rover (5,637), Mini (4,024), and Fiat (2,913) were also on the list of the defeated.

Naturally, the showing puts Tesla on pace to break the annual sales record (30,200) set in 2014 by Nissan Leaf. The industry as a whole was buoyed by the performances of Model S and Model X.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 10: A Tesla Model S is displayed inside of the new Tesla flagship facility on August 10, 2016 in San Francisco, California. Tesla is opening a 65,000 square foot store, its largest retail center to date. The facility will offer sales and service of Tesla's electric car line.
Tesla Model S is displayed inside the Tesla flagship facility in San Francisco | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

According to the totals from InsideEVS, plug-in cars as a segment hit an all-time record with 16,974 sales in September. Think sales are surging? Here’s a number: electric cars gained 70% (year over year) while establishing the record. So Tesla is hitting its stride while the growing product list is getting more cars on the road than ever before. The refreshed Ford Fusion Energi is an example of a model getting its second wind in 2016.

Still, no one is dominating the field quite like Tesla, and it looks like it will hit its revised production goals (50,000 in the second half) by year’s end. That doesn’t mean the competition is waiting, however. Chevrolet Bolt EV, complete with 238 miles of EPA-estimated range, starts rolling off production lines late in 2016. Shorter-range models like Hyundai Ioniq and Ford Focus Electric (both with over 100 miles) will make their cases on the lower end of the price spectrum.

For now, Tesla is alone in the driver’s seat. No one will be able to touch its monthly sales record in the immediate future. When the Model 3 emerges in 2017, we may be talking about a new contender once production ramps up. In the meantime, the EV maker is actually succeeding with its strategy of attracting customers on the lower end of its price points.

InsideEVs says some 60% of U.S. deliveries were Model S 70 kWh cars. That one may not hit ludicrous speeds, but it shows the masses apparently want to drive electric, too.

Connect with Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY