Model S sales data, or: Statistics in insane mode

Confused? You are not alone

Confused? You are not alone

How many Model S did Tesla sell in America in March? It totally depends on where you look. If you look at the data supplied by Automotive News, an industry publication that tracks all kinds of auto-related data, you will think Tesla sold 1,200 Model S in America last month. If you look at specialty website Inside EVs, which tracks all things electric, you will be made to believe that Tesla sold twice as many, namely 2,450 Model S. Peruse Autodata, a professional data supplier, and you will find yet another, different number, albeit one that is closer to that of Automotive News. Who is right? None of them are.

Tesla Motors is valued like a large car company, but it doesn’t seem to value its investors enough to provide them with decent data. Most large automakers provide monthly data, broken out by region. Tesla does not. All Tesla provides is one global number once every quarter.

Now that Tesla’s Elon Musk admitted that a large chunk of Model S sit unsold in Chinese warehouses, getting a grip on where and when the cars get shipped is more important than ever. In the past, Tesla could take the position that it doesn’t matter where the cars go, it’s all money. With possibly half of the China-bound Cars unsold, monthly data by region is becoming material information, and withholding it from investors could be interpreted as hiding the evidence. Until the data are released, do not trust any monthly number in these tables.

The lack of official data leaves investors and analysts guessing, and guess they do. Monthly data reported by all of the above are presumptions. If you track the guesses as we did above, you will see that the guesses by Inside EVs zig and zag the most, with an odd tendency towards peaking at the end of a quarter. Looking at the data, and correlating them with actual registrations, as we did in the past, one could get the impression that Inside EVs is receiving inside guidance. Inside EVs is hinting at that, saying that they use “first hand accounts available from the factory,” while otherwise professing innocence, and insisting that they “only estimate this number.”

While Inside EVs zigging and zagging estimates stand out, the most optimistic of all three is Automotive News. AN thinks Tesla sold nearly 23,000 Model S in the U.S. in the course of the past 12 months. Autodata and Inside EVs figure around 5,000 less.


Tesla quarterly estimates
Autodata Inside Evs Automotive News
Q1 14 4,700 3,500
Q2 14 4,400 3,900 6,750
Q3 14 4,750 3,900 4,900
Q4 14 4,850 6,000 5,800
Q1 15 3,550 4,700 5,450
Inside EVs: North America, others: U.S.

All three guesstimators agree that the first quarter of U.S. Model S sales will pale compared to the last quarter of 2014. Having more reliable data would help, especially because shipments to Asia and Europe supposedly were a dud – ostensibly because of the dock strike, but also because China has more Model S in stock than it needs.

N.B.: Inside EV’s guesses are for “North America,” the others guess for the U.S. only. Why InsideEVs can’t deduct the estimated Canadian sales to arrive at a U.S. number is anybody’s – guess.