Sales Analysis: California 3rd Quarter Sales – Tesla is #6 Selling Brand – As California Goes, So Does the Nation?

If you’ve ever wondered why it seems like I have a hard time relating to or writing about domestic cars from the ’80s up, it’s because they were quickly becoming irrelevant in California when I lived there. Our local Chevy dealer refused to stock anything but Corvettes, Suburbans and pickups, and this was in the late ’80s already. From the late 70s on, domestic cars in California were increasingly seen as something irrelevant or quaint.

This is not just a subjective opinion. This report put out regularly by the CA New Car Dealer’s Association shows just how poorly domestic brands have been faring, and for decades now. Toyota is #1, by a healthy margin, followed by Honda. #3 Ford and #4 Chevy are only relevant because of their trucks; their passenger car sales have been irrelevant there for decades. Nissan is #5. And nipping at its heels is Tesla.

The old adage is “As California goes, so goes the nation”. It has certainly been true regarding imports, along with a huge range of social/technological/environmental/other influences. So the question is whether it will be true with Tesla.

This chart’s 2018 YTD market share understates Tesla’s current performance, because volume production and deliveries of the Model 3 didn’t get underway until the third quarter. In that quarter, Tesla’s market share was 4.6%. Compare that to some of other brands (2018 YTD market share): Acura: 1.1%; Audi: 2.1%; BMW: 3.3%; Cadillac: 0.5%(!); Hyundai: 3.0%; Lexus: 3.0%; Lincoln: 0.3%(!); Mazda: 2.4%; Mercedes: 3.9%; Subaru: 3.9%; VW: 2.2%.

Keep in mind that Tesla has only three models.

If you’re wondering whether California got an overwhelming percentage of Tesla’s production, it was 32% of all US sales and 27% of their global sales. That’s less than lots of early import brands in the 50s and 60s, when it was common for California to represent over 50% of their US sales.

Another significant chart is this one, that shows pure EVs outselling both hybrids and plug-in hybrids. Since this YTD chart doesn’t reflect Tesla’s even higher selling rate in the third quarter, pure EVs are undoubtedly outselling both hybrids by a larger margin than this chart reflects. Adding Tesla’s 4.6% market share along with other EVs probably add up to some 5-6% or so.

If you’re sick of hearing so much about Tesla’s meteoric rise, my apologies. But this is the most significant thing that’s happened in the market since the import boom of the 1950’s. And we can see where that went, especially in California.