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Nissan Leaf EV First to Pass 400,000 Sales, but Tesla Model 3 Topped 2018

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The numbers are starting to rack up for electrified vehicles. Nissan just announced it has sold 400,000 Nissan Leaf EVs worldwide since the first Leaf whirred off a dealer lot in 2010. By early 2020, it should be a half a million, maybe the very end of 2019 if Nissan Leaf Plus sales get into high gear.

Earlier, Tesla reported it sold almost 146,000 Tesla Model 3’s worldwide in 2018 — way more than any other plug-in vehicle in a single year ever, meaning battery electric vehicles (BEVs) plus plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). Both are proof the market for electrified cars is picking up at a measured pace. As far as the US goes, plug-ins and hybrids each accounted for about 2 percent of the market last year.

Worldwide Nissan Leaf sales peaked last year at 87,000. Top year for US sales was 30,000 in 2014. Last year it was 15,000.

Nissan Leaf sales globally have moved upward most years and this year should probably top 100,000 worldwide sales. US sales have not yet regained the sales of 2013-14. With the Leaf Plus and its 226-mile range, it may be better suited to the longer drives many Americans do. The previous Leaf (still available) got 150 miles on a charge.

Among Nissan’s advantages over Tesla is that Nissan still has about 70,000 Leaf units under the EV tax-credit cap of 200,000 sales. Tesla hit 200,000 last July, and now — for the first two quarters of 2019 — Tesla can only offer half-tax-credits of $ 3,750, while Nissan will be offering $ 7,500 credits for the next 2-3 years, probably.

Tesla Model 3 sold almost 146,000 units globally.

Tesla has been putting up big EV production/sales numbers as a company overall. Its cumulative sales, as reported by Tesla, were more than 500,000 units at the end of 2018. The biggest seller was the Model 3, 146,00 units worldwide, about 140,000 in the US. That is the 35th best-selling vehicle in the US. It is also the best-selling luxury vehicle in the US, well ahead of the Lexus RX SUV (112,000).

Tesla’s sales could slip this year because of the halved tax credit, and it falls to $ 1,875 for the second half of the year before going away entirely Jan. 1, 2020. But Tesla has yet another EV on the way: The Tesla Model Y, a compact SUV, will be announced March 14. The larger Model S sedan and Model X SUV had similar sales last year, 27,000-30,000 each. If the Model Y keeps pace with the Model 3 the way the X tracked the S, then Tesla could get 10,000 sales a month out of the Model Y — if production capability can match demand.

So much about Tesla is a three-ring circus: production capacity (claimed versus actual, indoors versus outdoors under a tent), manufacturing quality, Elon Musk getting his hand slapped for statements that move Tesla stock in ways the SEC doesn’t approve. And yet Tesla continues to grow, has a China factory coming online, and is selling the Model 3 into Europe.

Worldwide, the second best-selling electric car, cumulative, isn’t the Model 3 yet, but the Tesla Model S. Six full selling seasons, the last four at 50,000-55,000 per year, have the Model S at around 250,000 sales worldwide, total. The Model 3 sold only about 2,000 units before 2018, giving it a cumulative total of about 150,000. Others with cumulative sales clustered around 170,000 include the China-market BAIC EC-Series, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the Chevrolet Volt PHEV (production just wound down), and the PHEV version of the Toyota Prius.

Pure battery electric vehicles get much of the ink. Meanwhile, the plug-in hybrids that Tesla scoffs at have found favor with buyers who appreciate doing virtually all their daily driving on battery power while the vehicle’s combustion engine is ready for a cross-state or cross-country drive.

EVs would sell better if there were more public charging stations outside the main travel corridors of the US — primarily Boston to Washington to Miami, and San Diego up to Seattle. Those will come as more EVs get sold, and more EVs get sold if there are more charging stations. In the current Washington climate, additional EV charging infrastructure will not be funded by the federal government. Check back in 2021.

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