Tesla Model Y is now the world’s best-selling car, first EV to do so

The Tesla Model Y was the world’s best-selling car in Q1 2023, marking the first time ever that an EV has achieved this feat, according to industry analyst JATO Dynamics.

Model Y sales have been growing around the world for the last few years, putting the car on the trajectory to become the world’s best-selling vehicle. The feat was first predicted even before the car came to market, as Tesla thought the car could see up to a million units of demand per year.

It was an ambitious goal at the time, with many considering it another example of an “optimistic” Tesla prediction, but last year Tesla said the Model Y was on track to become the world’s best-selling car in 2023.

Last year, the Model Y was the best-selling vehicle in Europe and California, the fourth best-selling in China despite China’s different tastes and model availability compared to the rest of the world, and was on the US top ten list but significantly behind several trucks and SUVs. These performances made it the third-best selling car worldwide.

But now, it looks like Tesla’s #1 sales prediction has come true. The Model Y has dethroned the Toyota Corolla as the world’s best-selling car in Q1 and looks like it may well maintain this position for the full year.

JATO Dynamics analyst Felipe Munoz compiled the data for Motor1, showing that the Model Y had 267,200 sales in Q1, according to data from 53 markets and projections/estimates for the rest of the world. This put it ahead of the Corolla at 256,400 sales for the same period and significantly ahead of the other top-five cars, the Hilux, RAV4, and Camry, all from Toyota.

While we don’t know if this placing will continue for the rest of the year, Model Y sales have been continually growing, whereas Corolla sales are trending slightly downward. One model is new and based on new technology, and the other is an old standard – though the current iteration of both models came out in a similar time frame, 2018 for the Corolla and 2019 for Model Y.

And given Tesla’s massive price cuts this year on Model Y, this will surely make the car accessible to more people compared to 2022.

Indeed, Model Y sales are already growing compared to last year. In 2022, Tesla had two of the top ten cars in the world, with Model Y achieving 759k sales. That gives it an average quarterly run rate of 189k, and this year’s Q1 number is a significant increase from that.

If Model Y continues at this rate or sales continue to grow at all for the rest of this year, it will exit 2023 with over 1 million sales. The only other vehicle in the world to sell 1 million units last year was the Toyota Corolla, at 1.12 million. So it might be close at year’s end, but we think it’s likely that Model Y will maintain its position.

The achievement is even more impressive given Model Y’s pricing and availability. While the Model Y does have broad availability in the world’s largest markets, the Corolla is available everywhere. JATO’s analysis combined all localizations (Corolla, Levin, Allion, Lingshang) and body styles (sedan, hatchback, wagon) of the Corolla model across the world to come up with its sales number.

And despite recent price cuts, the Model Y at ~$40k (after credits) is still significantly more expensive than a base-model Corolla at $21k. Higher prices generally restrict the addressable market, and while total cost of ownership is lower for EVs, the Corolla can still claim a TCO advantage over the vehicle that is now nevertheless beating it for market share.

Electrek’s Take

While the data has looked positive so far this year, this is the first confirmation by an industry analyst that we’ve seen of the Model Y’s position. We expected this would happen, and now it has, at least for Q1.

For those of us who have been in the electric game for a long time, we’ve had to hear a whole lot of people tell us that EVs are a fad, that traditional automakers will eventually wake up and dominate the market, that EVs are the “future” (not the present), and that the “demand isn’t there” – this quote specifically from Toyota, the company that has just been dethroned.

Well, here we are. An EV is presently the best-selling vehicle in the world. Not just in California, not just in Europe, but everywhere. Add them all up, and the EV wins.

Considering the rest of the industry’s inability (or lack of desire) to scale EV production, and Tesla’s relative inexperience at making cars, this is an incredibly impressive feat.

And it’s a mark against the rest of the industry that they didn’t see this coming. Each time Tesla entered a new segment, it devoured sales from competing vehicles in that segment – other modes’ sales went down, while Tesla’s sales went up in rough proportion. And yet, the industry continued to sit on its hands years after this was apparent. The arrogance of established industry has helped Tesla get this far – they should have followed when Tesla told them what needed to be done (instead of nine years later), but they were too prideful or too lazy to do so.

The fact is that consumers want EVs, they just haven’t been given enough options. When a well-made (non-compliance) EV comes around, it will sell, and Tesla seems like the only company interested in making them in big numbers.

It does seem like the industry is finally starting to get the message, offering more EVs, building up production capacity, and taking them seriously. But many automakers are still only dipping their toes into the water, and those automakers won’t do well in the long run. EVs are here; EVs are popular, and you need to make them now. Tesla has proven it time and time again, and now that an EV from a startup that didn’t even exist at the turn of the century is the top-selling vehicle in the entire world, maybe everyone will finally get the message.

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