No, Tesla Does Not Outsell the Mercedes S-Class in the U.S. or Globally

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Last year, Tesla (TSLA) claimed that its Model S outsold the Mercedes S-Class in the U.S. That report has been repeated over and over again. The problem is that it's not true in 2014.

The real fact is that the Mercedes S-Class outsold Tesla by more than three to one worldwide in 2014, and by 76% in the U.S., according to the most credible estimates. While it was busy boasting about its sales, Tesla neglected to mention that in 2013, the Mercedes S-Class went through its usual once-in-5-years all-new model change, so that its sales were unusually low.

So what's the real story?

Tesla started delivering the Model S in the middle of 2012, and in 2013 Tesla claimed that sales in the U.S. exceeded those of the Mercedes S-Class. More recently -- in September 2014 -- this claim was perpetuated by even the Dean of the Detroit auto press corps, Autoline.tv, as well as Consumer Reports.

But contrary to these claims, in 2014, Mercedes S-Class sales are vastly larger than Tesla sales, whether inside the U.S. or globally.

Let's start with the Mercedes S-Class sales numbers in 2014. Like other major automakers, Mercedes reports its sales for both the U.S. and globally a few days after each month ends. So far this year, these sales have been remarkably linear in most months: approximately 8,000 sales per month globally, with approximately 2,000 of those sold in the U.S.

For the first eight months of 2014, Mercedes sold 65,890 S-Class cars globally, with 15,006 of those sold in the U.S. How does this compare to Tesla?

Tesla doesn't report monthly numbers, nor a unit-sales geographical breakdown. As a result, we cannot say with 100% certainty the number of Tesla deliveries in the U.S. for the first eight months of 2014. However, we have plenty of data to make an educated estimate that is unlikely to be off by anything more than resembling a rounding error. Let's start at the top.

Globally, Tesla delivered 6,457 cars in the March 2014 quarter and 7,579 cars in the June quarter. That's a total of 14,036 for the first half of 2014.

In comparison, Mercedes delivered 49,262 S-Class cars globally in the first half of 2014, out of which 11,231 were in the U.S. In other words, Mercedes sold more than three times Tesla's global delivery number of 14,036.

But what about Tesla's U.S. sales number for the first half of 2014? Most people in the industry agree that the most well-researched and reliable source of U.S. plug-in electric car sales data is put together by insideevs.com.

According to Insideevs, out of Tesla's 14,036 first-half 2014 sales, 7,400 were for the U.S. To arrive at this number, Insideevs would tally up the reported sales in other countries, such as China, Norway and Canada, and subtract those from Tesla's total number. In those other countries, their respective equivalents of the U.S. state DMVs typically report these numbers right after each month.

Therefore, for the first half of 2014, Mercedes S-Class sales in the U.S. exceeded Tesla by 51% -- 11,231 vs. 7,400.

Looking out another two months, including July and August sales, makes the Mercedes sales advantage look just as large. Tesla guided the September quarter to 7,800 cars. That would mean 2,600 on a straight-line basis, or a total of 19,236 by the end of August.

In comparison, Mercedes sold 65,890 by the end of August -- again, comfortably more than three times as many as Tesla, globally.

For U.S. sales, Tesla added another 1,100 cars in July and August, according to Insideevs. That means 8,500 total. Mercedes, at 15,006 S-Class cars by August, was 76% higher.

So there you have it: Whether you count Mercedes S-Class vs. Tesla sales globally or in the U.S., whether you count the first six months of 2014 or the first eight months of 2014, Mercedes S-Class sales are dramatically higher than Tesla sales.

You may note from the numbers above that Mercedes' S-Class deliveries in the U.S. are not too far from Tesla's global deliveries. So it's really easy for anyone to verify the basic claim of whether Tesla's U.S. sales are larger than Mercedes S-Class. You don't have to subtract many countries (Norway, China, etc.) from the overall Tesla number in order to see that Mercedes S-Class sales at least exceed Tesla in the U.S. The question is just by how much.

Tesla's claim that U.S. sales may have exceeded Mercedes S-Class some time in 2013 may have had merit. But it is also an outdated achievement. That's not good enough.

At the time of publication, the author was short TSLA.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.


TheStreet Ratings team rates TESLA MOTORS INC as a Hold with a ratings score of C-. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:

"We rate TESLA MOTORS INC (TSLA) a HOLD. The primary factors that have impacted our rating are mixed ? some indicating strength, some showing weaknesses, with little evidence to justify the expectation of either a positive or negative performance for this stock relative to most other stocks. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its robust revenue growth, solid stock price performance and good cash flow from operations. However, as a counter to these strengths, we also find weaknesses including unimpressive growth in net income, poor profit margins and generally higher debt management risk."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: TSLA Ratings Report

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