There’s something to be said for Tesla’s Model S which for the second consecutive year led as the world’s best-selling plug-in passenger vehicle.
Its estimated 50,931 global sales in 2016 – pending final confirmation from Tesla – beats those of battery electric and plug-in hybrid alternatives from major manufacturers costing less and aimed at an ostensible mainstream demographic.
As you’ll see in the list of the top-10 global best sellers below, despite being a relatively luxury class car which could be expected to sell in lower volumes, the Model S is perceived as so good, its demand has kept it on top in sales.
This might also be interpreted as an indictment on the perceived value proposition of lower priced vehicles, as certainly cars costing from the high $20,000s to low $40,000s ought to sell better than one costing from the $60,000s to $160,000s.
So it goes. For now.
The major automakers of the world are otherwise also aware of the runaway success enjoyed since 2012 by the upstart from California, and to stay ahead of regulations, they say they’ll be adding many more competitive plug-ins.
By 2025, the three largest manufacturers of Europe say the plug-in electrified vehicles they will be selling then will range between 15-25 percent of their total volume. That is a huge promise, if it comes to pass, as they currently sell several millions of vehicles annually – as many as 10 million in VW Group’s case – and other carmakers besides are also being pulled into the fray.
Meanwhile, within a market that started in earnest just after the beginning of this decade, Tesla is doing well. The Model S’ 50,931 estimated sales are a good bit above 31,400 sales of the Chevy/Holden Volt and Opel/Vauxhall Ampera siblings in 2012 when those first-generation models were still fresh.
The Model S does not however top the 61,507 Nissan Leafs sold in 2014 which remains the most plug-in cars sold in one year.
For that matter, neither do any of the other vehicles on the top-10 best-sellers list this year – a list that has seen other upstarts coming in and this one-upmanship process will only intensify in years ahead.
Notable also, is Tesla was not the world’s best-selling plug-in brand. The 76,243 global combined sales of the Model S and X did not top those of China’s BYD, tallying to 101,183 just in China – reflecting the dominance of that market which also managed to place four best sellers in the top 10 list.
Speaking of which, here it is:
10. BAIC E-Series EV – 18,814
The design of the BAIC E-Series was more than a little “inspired” by the Mercedes B-Class Electric, and in China where it’s exclusively sold, 18,814 units found their way to new owners last year.
In 2015 it sold 16,488, so sales were up 14 percent and has remained in the 10th place position the past couple years.
9. BYD e6 – 20,605
The BYD e6 has been around since 2009, and was U.S. EPA certified a few years back as the carmaker thought to sell it here, though never did.
Last year an upgraded battery almost tripled sales to 20,605 units making it China’s best-selling pure battery electric car.
It is mainly a China market car, but does see taxi duty in other small markets though those sales figures are not reported.
8. BYD Qin – 21,868
BYD’s Qin plug-in hybrid is quick, and popular, having been China’s best selling plug-in car during 2014 and 2015, and last year it sold 21,868 units.
Due to other rising models, the Qin’s place on the top-10 list fell from number four in 2015.
Its cumulative 68,655 sales from launch through December are the highest among China’s New Energy Vehicles.
7. Renault Zoe – 22,009
The Zoe also got a new battery recently, but its popularity in Europe during 2016 was already in place to enable 22,009 sales, a 16 percent increase over 2015.
It is the top-selling EV in Europe.
6. BMW i3 – Est. 25,500
The i3 by BMW saw slow growth of 6 percent last year, and its 25,500 sales meant it fell from its fifth place position in 2015
On a bright note, it was Germany’s best-selling plug-in car. That country’s new incentive program has not boosted sales as much as had been hoped however, and the i3’s volume in Germany was just 2,863 units.
As BMW stopped reporting monthly i3 sales figures last year, its sales estimate here is from main country markets.
5. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV – Est. 27,700
Of the estimated 27,700 global sales for Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV, 21,446 came from Europe.
This SUV has been delayed to the U.S. numerous times and points to the popularity SUVs could have in this country if made into plug-ins.
In Norway, where they can’t get enough of plug-ins, it actually broke the dominance held by battery electrics until 2015 and was its top-selling plug-in last year.
Popular also in the Netherlands, UK, and Sweden, the Outlander PHEV fell two places on the top-10 list and had been third in 2015.
4. Chevrolet Volt – 28,208
The extended-range Volt climbed from eighth place in 2015 when it was revised for the 2016 model year.
Its 28,208 sales are from the U.S. and Canada only, and the 24,739 sales from the U.S. comprised 87.7 percent of the total.
It was Canada’s best-selling plug-in vehicle with 3,469 sold.
BYD Tang – 31,405
Look at this: A Chinese crossover SUV few people outside of plug-in enthusiast circles have even heard of is third place.
BYD’s Tang has more horsepower than a Chevrolet Corvette and the crossover’s 31,405 sales enabled it to climb from seventh place in 2015 to third.
It also dethroned its family relation, the Qin as China’s best-selling plug-in car.
2. Nissan Leaf – 49,226
Nissan’s former world sales leader in 2013 and 2014 has trailed in second place for two years now as a new 2018 model awaits revelation this year.
The Leaf has been the closest thing to a mainstream market EV, and does lead the world by far with more than 250,000 cumulative sales.
Its chief markets with sales following are Europe (18,716), Japan (14,795), U.S. (14,006), Canada (1,375), and the rest of the world accounts for 328 units.
When the next-generation Leaf is released it’s to be competitive with the Chevy Bolt EV and others expected in the over-200 mile EV club at this sub $40,000 price level, which should help its sales quite a bit.
1. Tesla Model S – Est. 50,931
The Model S sales are preliminary, subject to Tesla’s fourth quarter report in which it is expected to publish the actual figure. Historically, it’s been higher by a few dozen units.
Assuming 50,931 units, sales have actually about flattened, as this is just 1 percent above 2015’s 50,446 sales.
Most Model S sales come from the U.S. – 57 percent, or 29,156 units – and in the states it has likewise been the best selling plug-in for two years running.
Other top markets include China (about 6,000), Norway (2,051), Hong Kong (over 2,000), the Netherlands (1,693), Canada (about 1,500), Germany (1,474) and Switzerland (1,299).
The Model S otherwise enjoys status as the first widely available series-production electric car with over 200 miles range, and the highest-range version now is estimated at 335 miles.
It also comes in all-wheel drive, and semi-autonomous “Autopilot” expected to go full autonomous this year. Blazing 0-60 and quarter mile acceleration is also available – enough to out sprint large-displacement four-cylinder motorcycles, something unheard of only a few years ago.
The S model engineered and manufactured in the United States has for these and many more reasons garnered a fan base.
While the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Audi, all say they will have cool electric cars too in the next three years or so, the Model S remains a tough act to follow.