US auto sales were down 15% in 2020, whereas Tesla’s US sales were estimated to be up 9%

January 2021, Clean Technica, Zach Shahan, Tesla’s Position Among US Auto Brands (Charts)

On Saturday, I published a new CleanTechnica report showing that US auto sales were down 15% in 2020, whereas Tesla’s US sales were estimated to be up 9%. Only two companies other than Tesla had their US sales increase in 2020 — Volvo and Alfa Romeo, each by 2%. However, I only published volume and percentage changes in sales in 2020 versus 2019 and in the 4th quarter of 2020 vs. 4th quarter of 2019. I didn’t publish total sales by auto brand. Let’s now take a look at those and how Tesla fits into the market from that perspective.

Note that there’s a 4-part interactive chart at the bottom of this article that’s much better and more useful than the static individual charts. However, it doesn’t always show well on phones, so is best used on a “real computer.”

Full-year 2020 US auto sales by brand. Tesla is #18.

Looking first at Tesla’s position across all of 2020 versus all of 2019, the first thing that stands out is that Tesla is still a bit player, a small-timer, #18 in the overall auto market. It’s not a tiny third-string benchwarmer, like Fiat, Alfa Romeo, or MINI. But it sure isn’t an All Star in the starting lineup either, like Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet.

More or less, I’d put it on a third tier in the industry.

  • I’d group Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet on the first tier (1.74 to 1.94 million annual sales); Honda on a step of its own between that tier and the second tier (1.21 million sales in 2020);
  • Nissan, Jeep, Ram, Hyundai, Subaru, Kia, and GMC on the second tier (annual sales ranging from 515,000 to 820,000);
  • 15 brands on a third notable tier (100,000–330,000 annual sales); and
  • then any automaker below 100,000 annual sales on a fourth and final tier.

Though, frankly, this is all just arbitrary and based on looking at the chart above. Another option could be putting Tesla at the top of a fourth tier, with the 6 brands just above it ranging from 63,000 to 121,000 more sales in 2020 — a significant step up from Tesla.

Full-year 2019 US auto sales by brand. Tesla is #20.

In 2019, Tesla was a couple of positions lower on the ranking, standing at #20. While the company’s industry-leading 9% growth in 2020 did make a difference, in the grand scheme of things, Tesla moved from deep in the middle of the pack to another position deep in the middle of the pack. Or you could perhaps say the top of the bottom of the pack to the bottom of the middle of the pack. Comparing it to market leader Ford, Tesla went from a couple million behind the leader to almost a couple million behind the leader. How will things look in 2021, 2022, 2023, … 2030? We’ll see.

4th quarter 2020 US auto sales by brand. Tesla is #17.

4th quarter 2019 US auto sales by brand. Tesla is #19.

Just looking at the 4th quarter of the past two years, rather than full-year results, Tesla rose from #19 in the 4th quarter of 2019 to #17 in the 4th quarter of 2020. The Silicon Valley automaker passed up Audi and Dodge to climb those two positions.

The brands above Tesla are still a notable step away, but next in Tesla’s sights is basically a plateau of 5 automakers — Lexus, Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW, and Land Rover. Tesla needs a quarterly increase of 20,000–30,000 sales to surpass them, if you presume their sales remain constant (in actuality, their sales will either go up a bit or drop down further). If Tesla is able to rise above those 5 brands, it will arrive at the #12 spot. However, it would need to more than double its 73,000 quarterly sales to reach #11 Kia, based on its 157,000+ sales in the 4th quarter of 2020. Will Tesla ever do that? If so, when?

Interactive version of the charts above (best viewed on a laptop or desktop computer, not a phone):