California is a special place for so many reasons. In terms of the U.S. auto industry, it’s the main battleground of the hybrid and electric vehicle war. Judging by the headlines, ‘How the West Was Won’ would simply be the story of Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA). However, there’s far more to that tale — as the U.S. capital of green cars is still very much Toyota (NYSE:TM) country. At least for now, that is.
The latest figures say Tesla is a bona fide force on its home turf and using every bit of the advantage it can get. The California New Car Dealers Association (CNCDA) took Polk data and posted their results for vehicle sales through June 2013 in the Golden State. One glance at the new vehicle registrations is enough to make the Detroit Three –not to mention the German Luxury Three — sit behind the wheel and look for check-engine warnings.
Tesla posted a 34,000-percent gain in 2013 sales in California compared to the previous year. Since the Tesla Model S is new for 2013, the giant jump is not as earth-shattering as it sounds. However, a deeper look at the numbers is. The Polk figures indicate Tesla has 12 percent of the market for luxury cars in California, trailing only the BMW 3-Series and the Mercedes Benz (DDAIF.PK) E-Class in the luxury category. Then there was Tesla’s share of the state’s overall market for new light-duty automobiles.
Tesla has a 0.6 percent share of the California market, a fraction of 1 percent, and a mere sliver of the 18.5 percent held by Toyota, not to mention the 11.7 percent of Ford (NYSE:F) and the 11.8 percent of Honda (NYSE:HMC). The Polk data states its case for Tesla when looking at two premium brands from Ford and General Motors (NYSE:GM).
Tesla has double the Lincoln market share (0.3 percent) while besting Buick’s 0.5 percent (Cadillac has 0.8 percent). Tesla nearly matched Chrysler (FIATY.PK) as a whole, as the third member of the Detroit Three had a 0.7 share for 2013. Mitsubishi (MMTOF.PK) was one casualty: Tesla has double the Japanese automaker’s share in California.
Despite everything, California is still Toyota country. The Prius family sold nearly 34,000 vehicles in California through June — the most of any car, according to the Polk data — while Toyota held onto its 21-percent market share in the state during the same time-frame. According to the Toyota website, the high-end Prius (the plug-in) tops out around $32,000.
That’s less than half the cost of a Tesla Model S. California is special, yet the news from China indicates that the world’s largest auto market is mirroring this country’s largest green car market. Hundreds of orders are coming in for the Model S in Hong Kong, according to a recent Bloomberg report. Most significantly, the mindset has changed for the Chinese car consumer.
Car buyers are remarking about the vicious stares luxury gas-engine car drivers now receive in Hong Kong. People are willing to pay the premium for quality electric vehicles, even when there are no government subsidies available for imports like Tesla. The quality and exclusivity — not mention the reduced emissions — are enough for customers to spend far larger, sometimes double, on a Model S.
At this rate, nothing appears capable of stopping Tesla’s ascent. Once the West is won, the rest of the U.S. may follow.