The Tesla Model 3 Killed the Rest of American Luxury

Photo: Tesla

Despite the countless issues that have plagued the Tesla Model 3’s production and delivery process, Tesla did manage to sell an impressive number of them last year. And that figure, when contrasted with all the other cars sold in the U.S. last year, paints a very bleak picture of the state of American luxury car brands indeed.

Yesterday, as part of Tesla’s fourth quarter and 2018 full year update call, the automaker included a statement that claimed the 3 had not only outsold all other premium sedans, but all other premium vehicles:

With nearly 140,000 units sold, Model 3 was also the best-selling premium vehicle (including SUVs) in the US for 2018 – the first time in decades an American carmaker has been able to secure the top spot.

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Of course, whenever any automaker makes sweeping, grandiose statements like that, it’s always worth investigating. Obviously, this isn’t an objective test, since the definition of “premium” can differ from person to person, but defining “premium” in this case isn’t too hard. All we had to do was check every vehicle that outsold the Model 3 and see if there are any premium luxury brands above it.

We pulled the numbers of the highest-selling cars of 2018 from the ever-useful GoodCarBadCar and compared them to the 140,317 Model 3s the site reported as sold. And it turns out that the Tesla Model 3 was actually the highest-selling American luxury car last year, SUV or otherwise.

For reference and convenience, here are the cars, trucks and SUVs that outsold the Model 3, from least to most:

  • Tesla Model 3: 140,317
  • Chevy Cruze: 142,618
  • Subaru Crosstrek: 144,384
  • Chevy Malibu: 144,542
  • Chevy Traverse: 146,264
  • Mazda CX-5: 150,622
  • Dodge Grand Caravan: 151,927
  • Hyundai Tucson: 153,792
  • Honda Pilot: 159,615
  • Jeep Compass: 171,167
  • Subaru Forester: 171,613
  • Ford Fusion: 173,600
  • Subaru Outback: 178,854
  • Hyundai Elantra: 200,415
  • Nissan Altima: 209,146
  • Nissan Sentra: 213,046
  • GMC Sierra: 224,554
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee: 224,908
  • Jeep Cherokee: 239,437
  • Jeep Wrangler: 240,032
  • Toyota Highlander: 244,511
  • Toyota Tacoma: 245,659
  • Ford Explorer: 261,571
  • Ford Escape: 272,228
  • Honda Accord: 291,071
  • Toyota Corolla: 303,732
  • Honda Civic: 325,760
  • Chevy Equinox: 332,621
  • Toyota Camry: 343,439
  • Honda CR-V: 379,021
  • Nissan Rogue: 412,110
  • Toyota Rav4: 427,168
  • Ram Pickup: 536,980
  • Chevy Silverado: 585,582
  • Ford F-Series: 909,330

Sure, there are plenty of American cars and trucks that outsold the Tesla—but none of them were from an American luxury brand. No Cadillacs. No Lincolns. This is further proof that we should probably start thinking of California-based Tesla as an American luxury brand.

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Tesla pitches this all as a sign of success for the Model 3, and it is. But it’s also a real indictment of the state of legacy American luxury autos. If you’re curious, Cadillac only managed to push out about 11,000 CTS-es and ATSes each last year. Even the Escalade only managed about 36,000.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that most cars now offer features that were once considered luxury, like power seats, power windows, seat heaters, good interior materials, decent audio systems and a suite of driver-assistance tech. So while a Honda Civic may not be considered a “luxury car” in the traditional sense, it can offer pretty much as many luxury features that a top-tier “luxury car” could. That could be a reason why there weren’t more luxury cars on the list.

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If anything, though, these findings make me ask what the point of buying a luxury car is today. True, you get more performance, maybe some differences in how they handle. There’s probably also something to be said of the tech offered on some cars but not on others. Honestly, it’s most likely brand snobbery. As we’ve learned recently, the new Cadillac XT6 is basically a re-badged Chevrolet Traverse anyway, plus some more luxury and safety tech.

Compare that with the Model 3, which has had some very public build-quality issues, but still looks like little else on the road. And it drives totally differently as well, particularly with its super minimalist interior and fully electric drivetrain.

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The Model 3 is an excellent car, there’s no doubt about that. We’ve very much enjoyed it during the times that we’ve had it. But despite it being the best-selling American “premium” luxury car last year, it’s not like the other two American luxury brands came up with much else that people wanted to buy anyway.

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About the author

Kristen Lee

Writer at Jalopnik and consumer of many noodles.