The Tesla Model S: Is It America’s No. 1 Electric Vehicle?

Source: Tesla

As hardcore economy buffs wring their hands with anxiety over how electric automakers are doing, the guys over at IHS Automotive took a recent look at the global electric vehicle market as a whole in the hopes of getting down to the facts. While Norway continues to set the pace when it comes to sales, with EVs and plug-in hybrids representing one third of new vehicles registered during the first quarter of 2015, overall volumes remain highest in both the U.S. and China.

Another issue that is being thrown into the mix is that EV/PHEV numbers are fluctuating like mad across the board here in America, so IHS has to calculate that into its equation as well. “While the federal tax credit in the U.S. of up to $7,500 USD for plug-in electric vehicles is continuing to encourage sales across the country, the adoption of these vehicles has been uneven,” said Ben Scott, a senior analyst at IHS. “Low fuel pump prices are [also] adversely influencing EV/PHEV purchases among U.S. consumers.”

And while IHS’s report shows that the overall market share for EV/PHEVs in the U.S. remains lower than the collective IQ of a garden snail, that measly 0.8% of the market remains based purely on volume, which is why economists are so curious as to who may be out in front. Slow sales are primarily due to the fact that electric vehicles are still a pain in the ass to own in most parts of America, where a lack of rapid charging stations and battery-draining commutes remain legitimate issues.

There is another issue as well: One manufacturer remains particularly resistant to releasing monthly sales figures. Even when a reputable source like IHS offers solid numbers that hint at its dominance in the EV/PHEV market, Tesla Motors refuses to release its monthly progress report, thus making it hard for anyone to cry victory.

Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News

Forever resistant to conforming to what automakers should or should not do, the California-based electric automaker continues to obfuscate its monthly sales numbers. Maybe it has something to do with going green and saving paper, or perhaps the company doesn’t want its competition to know how well it is doing at this particular moment because it likes to wait for a “big picture” synopsis. Whatever the reason, the company remains quiet on the matter, even though they finally started releasing quarterly numbers a while back.

So why all the secrecy, and what does that mean for the consumer? While economists want to see how the battery-powered performer is doing, Tesla’s number game continues to exist on a “need to know basis.” So instead of worrying about the numbers perhaps it is time to look at why this car might be selling so well, and what makes it so different than its immediate competition on a sales basis: the Nissan Leaf.

The Tesla Model S is a monster of a luxury electric vehicle, going from zero to 60 in just over three seconds in P85D trim, and boasts all the refinement one would expect to find in a car that cost six figures, which it does. The Leaf, on the other hand, takes about three times as long to get up to 60, and while its interior is not horrific by any means, it still very much has a commuter car feel to it. But Americans have money, and don’t mind spending it on electric cars that are both commuter-friendly and kick ass. So comparing these two cars to one another is like comparing a grape to a grapefruit: They may both have the same word attached to them, and are even shelved in the same area of the supermarket, but when it comes down to it these are two completely different flavors.

Sure, both cars are practical, require a charger to “refuel,” and are quieter than Charlie Chaplin, but that’s about it. And even though a top-shelf Leaf is about a third of the cost of a performance-spec Model S, America’s rekindled love affair with all things performance-oriented continues to influence the market. Plus, the interior is bloody brilliant, with all of those soft-touch materials and a touchscreen control station that has the surface area of a LaGuardia runway.

So as Nissan releases monthly figures showing it sold 4,085 Leafs in the U.S. in the first quarter of the year, it is safe to say that Tesla trumped this as there were only 14,832 new plug-in vehicles registered during that time. But since the word “sold” was never utilized in IHS’ report, these numbers remain hazy until Tesla’s official quarterly report lands. The good news is that regardless of who is buying what and why, at least EVs are selling in America.