Tesla Is Outselling Cadillac, Chrysler, Porsche, and Mitsubishi in California

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 22 2013 7:13 PM

Tesla Is Outselling Cadillac, Chrysler, Porsche, and Mitsubishi in California

A Tesla showroom in Miami
A Tesla showroom in Miami

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For all its virtues—performance, safety, comfort, potential fossil-fuel savings—the Tesla Model S is still dismissed by many critics as a toy for the 1 percent. It’s true that its base price of $63,570 (after a federal rebate) puts it out of most people’s reach. But new sales figures out of California may surprise those who doubt electric vehicles’ mainstream appeal.

In the first half of 2013, Tesla captured 0.6 percent of the total light-duty vehicle market in the state—more than Buick, Fiat, Land Rover, Lincoln, or Mitsubishi. And looking only at June, the latest month for which figures are available, Tesla also topped Cadillac, Chrysler, and Porsche. That’s especially impressive when you consider that those brands are selling multiple different cars, whereas the Model S is the only Tesla vehicle in production. The data come from Polk via the latest report from the California New Car Dealers Association.

Keep in mind that California is not your average state when it comes to vehicle sales. As Treehugger points out, the top-selling car overall in the state so far this year is the hybrid Toyota Prius, and hybrids accounted for an unprecedented 7 percent of all new-car sales in the state. Pure electric vehicles, meanwhile, topped 1 percent, outselling plug-in hybrids largely on the strength of the Model S’s appeal. And Polk’s data show that nearly half of all Teslas sold in the second quarter were sold in California.

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Still, if California is more leading indicator than outlier, the Model S may be on its way to becoming a bigger sales success than almost anyone imagined. It is already outselling competitors in the high-luxury class on a national basis, and the California figures show it surpassing far cheaper cars like the Ford Taurus, Dodge Challenger, and Chevy Tahoe.

Tesla has a steep road ahead as it works toward building a more affordable sedan within the next few years. But it’s safe to say by now that the demand is there. If it succeeds, electric vehicles’ path to mainstream acceptance—and big sales figures—may prove smoother than anticipated.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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