The 2016 electric car sales are in, and Tesla had its best year to date. For the second straight year, Model S was America’s best-selling plug-in car with 29,421 deliveries, according to InsideEVs. Model X placed third in the segment with 18,223 sales. Altogether, the Palo Alto-based electric vehicle company smashed its total from 2015 (25,416) by nearly 90% with over 47,000 sales. If there was a cherry missing from the sundae, it was coming up short of the annual sales record Nissan Leaf set in 2014.
Tesla reported mostly good news in its fourth-quarter production and delivery note. Besides producing 83,992 automobiles (62% better, year over year), the automaker only barely missed its sales target (80,000) with 76,230 global deliveries. In a company statement, Tesla cited the complications with Autopilot for late-year production challenges. Demand remained strong, so we expect few to dwell on the sales miss.
No automaker besides Nissan ever broke 30,000 before, so Tesla easily crushed the all-time U.S. mark with its two vehicles combined. (Globally, China’s BYD holds the annual EV sales mark.) Model S also broke its own record for monthly sales with 5,850 in December. The only EV record left standing in America is the single-vehicle annual sales total Leaf managed in a different era for plug-ins.
In what has become something of a historical curiosity, Leaf sold 30,200 units of its electric car in ’14. Back then, it offered just 84 miles on a full charge and boasted humble performance specs. Yet it set a record that has stood ever since. (Though InsideEVs estimates Tesla deliveries every month, it has never erred by many cars. We feel confident Nissan will remain the leader for at least one more year.)
By New Year’s Day 2018, Tesla will easily hold this mark, for whatever it’s worth. In fact, the company’s Q4 report mentioned another “6,450 vehicles … in transit to customers.” Had they arrived, Tesla would have eclipsed the old Leaf mark with ease.
Looking at the big picture, Tesla continued its trend of big delivery numbers at the end of quarters. After posting about 2,300 deliveries in November, U.S. customers received over four times as many (9,725) in the final month of 2016. Having finished the transition to Autopilot in every car, Tesla should have its Fremont plant ready to take down any remaining records in 2017.
Maybe the most remarkable thing about Tesla is the high demand for cars that average $100,000 upon delivery. Despite costing double the MSRP of other plug-ins, Model S and X continue generating record orders. In 2016’s final quarter, Tesla reported its highest number of net orders to date — 24% better than its previous (Q3) high.
Reliability issues hounding new and used Teslas have not hurt, either. The company’s high marks in customer service likely explain this phenomenon. When Tesla receives a complaint, it responds. In turn, customers say they are satisfied.
Looking ahead, Tesla should produce well over 150,000 cars in 2017. (It reached an annual pace of 100,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter.) While Model 3 may not reach many customers in 2017, the Fremont production team seems to have hit its stride.