Tesla sold almost one quarter of all the electric vehicles worldwide in 2020, retaining its place as the global market leader, and will likely hold the upper hand for 2021.
Claiming 23% of the entire battery-electric car market, and 16% of the entire plug-in market (which includes battery electric vehicles – BEVs – and plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs), Tesla outdid fellow electric heavyweights Volkswagen and Chinese-owned SAIC on both fronts.
While Tesla only barely missed its own 2020 sales target of 500,000 in what was a challenging year for the auto market at large, it outsold both the challengers two-to-one according to figures compiled by EV Sales’
With its Model 3 now well established in domestic and overseas markets and output from its Shanghai factory a good 12 months into production, Tesla also released its Model Y electric crossover onto the local US market.
The results underline the stronghold Tesla continues to have on the global EV market without spending a cent on advertising, which other carmakers must now double-down on if they are to catch up (case in point: GM’s anti-Norway Super Bowl advertising campaign).
One of Tesla’s most vocal rivals, and admirers – if we are to believe CEO Herbert Diess – is, of course, Volkswagen.
That rivalry has most recently seen Diess take to Tesla’s Elon Musk favourite channel, Twitter, laying down a gauntlet to apparently challenge the Californian EV maker’s powerful tri-motor Plaid Model S with a mysterious “Trinity” electric vehicle.
But while VW’s plug-in sales almost tripled from 2019 to 2020 to 420,000 sales counting Volkswagen’s PHEV efforts and the arrival of its ID.3 electric hatch, the German carmaker wasn’t quite able to snatch the gold medal from Tesla.
In fact, it only just lost second place to SAIC in the battery-electric market after the Wuling Mini EV claimed top position on the Chinese market in the last quarter of 2020, Pontes notes.
The little Wuling Mini EV also helped Volkswagen knock Renault, whose Zoe electric hatch is enormously popular in Europe, and Nissan whose decade-old Leaf maintains consistent although modest sales, off the third-place perch in their Renault-Nissan alliance form.
So what is in store for 2021 on the global EV market?
While Pontes thinks the Wuling Mini EV could be a “dark horse” that could upend both Tesla and Volkswagen as they vie for the 2021 throne, it may take longer than this year alone to play out.
VW is set to imminently release its ID.4 “world car”, and Tesla will before the mid-year open its Berlin gigafactory. It has already begun making Model Ys in Shanghai, and once both these factories are pumping out the Tesla electric crossover the hurdle for legacy carmakers will be even higher.
“Will this mean that VW will beat Tesla in 2021? I think it will be closer than this year, but I believe Tesla will still have the upper hand, but for 2022…All bets are on,” says Pontes.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.