The Model S sedan from Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) beat the perennial category leader — the Nissan Leaf — in total January U.S. sales. The Model S sold 1,300 units, according to HybridCars.com, compared with sales of 1,070 for the Leaf.
There is an asterisk following the Model S total though. Tesla does not report monthly sales and the number of units sold is an estimate. We will probably never know exactly how many cars Tesla sold in the United States in January 2015, although we will be able to look at the number reported in the first-quarter report and divide by three to get a closer idea.
January car sales are typically sharply below December sales, when auto dealers do everything they can to pull sales forward to make their annual numbers. The Nissan Leaf sold 3,100 units in December, and the estimated total for Tesla was 1,900. For the 2014 calendar year, the Leaf sold 30,200 units in the United States, compared with 16,550 for the Model S.
As tough as January was for all-electric vehicles, hybrid sales were worse. Compared with January 2014, sales fell 8.1%. Hybrid sales dropped 88% for the 2014 calendar year, while total auto sales rose 5.8%. The January market share leader in the hybrid category is the Prius Liftback from Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM), with 28.9% and sales of 7,316 in the month. That is down 16.9% from December sales, but up 1.5% compared with January 2014.
Sales of plug-in hybrids in 2014 rose 13.1%, led by the Chevy Volt from General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM). Volt sales dropped a whopping 63.6% month-over-month to just 542 units in January. A new model was introduced at the Detroit Auto Show in January, but the new cars will not be available until the fall of this year. Selling the existing model of the Volt will be a challenge, which GM is likely to meet by building fewer cars rather than discounting.