Tesla gaining on BMW for U.S. luxury sales crown

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Tesla’s upward trajectory among premium brands is ready for a fresh boost with the start of production at its nearly finished plant in Austin, Texas. But the electric auto maker may have already snatched the U.S. luxury crown from BMW.

While the traditional top three luxury marques have posted their final U.S. sales for 2021, Tesla does not break out domestic sales from its global numbers. That means U.S. new-vehicle registration data, which lags several weeks behind sales, is needed to tell the full story of the year’s luxury-market sales race.

Financial data firm Experian released the latest batch of U.S. registration numbers last week, corresponding to November. It paints a promising picture for Tesla in its battle with BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz.

Tesla’s November registration surge of 42,314 new vehicles brought its 11-month total to 303,246, Experian said. At the start of this year, BMW reported total 2021 sales of 336,644, beating Lexus at 304,475 and Mercedes at 276,102.

Sales and registration numbers don’t track perfectly, since a vehicle can be sold in one month and registered in another. Through September for instance, BMW reported 179,982 sales, but Experian had counted 190,917 new BMWs registered with state governments.

“The numbers are too close to call at this moment, but it looks like there could be an upset,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds.

“Even if Tesla doesn’t take the top spot, it is remarkable that they have risen to the top in a short period of time, considering collapse seemed entirely possible a few years ago,” Caldwell told Automotive News.

Tesla fans on social media, some of whom calculate their own detailed sales projections, predicted an eventual win for the Texas-based automaker over BMW when the final numbers are out.

Twitter user @TroyTeslike estimated U.S. deliveries at 360,199 for 2021. That’s based on Model Y sales of 184,628, Model 3 sales of 151,884, Model S sales of 21,846 and Model X sales of 1,841.

BMW and Mercedes have traded the U.S. luxury sales crown for the past decade. Lexus last triumphed in 2010, closing out its own decade of dominating the top spot.

But Tesla’s rising global production from factories in Fremont, Calif., and Shanghai suggest that the automaker is managing the industrywide semiconductor shortage better than rivals, according to industry analysts.

With its new plant in Austin opening in the next several weeks — and a nearly complete Berlin factory on deck — Tesla is likely to assume the top spot in the U.S. luxury market soon, even if the 2021 numbers come up short, Caldwell said.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said the company will start Texas production with the Model Y compact crossover, its bestselling U.S. vehicle. Current wait times for the Model Y produced in Fremont stretch to weeks or months, depending on the trim.

“Tesla’s incremental sales are a major contributor to the luxury market outpacing the new-vehicle market as a whole,” Caldwell said. “Tesla isn’t just capturing the luxury consumer. It’s also offering something a bit different to lure in affluent consumers who may have not prioritized buying a Mercedes-Benz or BMW in the past, even if they could afford it.”

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