First it was America’s best-selling electric car. Then it became the best-selling luxury car. Now, against the odds, Tesla Inc.’s Model 3 is becoming one of the best-selling sedans in America, period.
Automakers on Tuesday reported monthly and quarterly sales totals. For the three months that ended in September, Tesla delivered more Model 3s than all but four of the top sedans sold in the U.S., regardless of size or price.
It’s an imperfect ranking because Tesla didn’t break out sales by country, and the Model 3 tally included some deliveries to customers in Canada. And the climb comes at a time when Americans prefer crossovers, SUVs and truck by an ever-wider margin. Nonetheless, the third-quarter showing was unprecedented for an electric car and a remarkable turnabout for Tesla, which struggled for much of the last year to mass-produce the sedan.
Tesla’s competitors are feeling it. Sales of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the best-selling luxury sedan in the U.S., plunged 24 percent last month and are down 28 percent for the year through September.BMW AG’s namesake brand barely managed to eke out an increase last month, on the strength of its X3 crossover. “Tesla is now ramping up their volumes, and it’s putting pressure on that market segment,” Bernhard Kuhnt, chief executive officer of BMW North America, said of the luxury sedan space in an interview Tuesday. “In that environment, I’m very, very pleased to say we were up.
”BMW unveiled a revamped version of its signature 3 Series sedan Tuesday at the Paris auto show. Its next battery-electric vehicle, the iX3, won’t be ready until 2020. By then, Daimler AG’s Mercedes and Volkswagen AG’s Audi and Porsche brands should have a slate of electric contenders. Jaguar plans to start delivering its electric I-Pace to U.S. customers next month.
It’s unclear if any of these offerings will have enough appeal to give internal combustion cars a run for their money.
For now, Tesla is the first and only electric car to break into the ranks that are dominated by Japanese and Korean carmakers. And it’s doing so at a higher price than other mass-market cars. The most expensive versions of the Model 3 are currently the most popular, with an average selling price approaching $60,000. Tesla says cheaper versions starting at $35,000—designed to appeal to a wider group of buyers—may be coming around the end of the year.