To my ears, the biggest highlight from the Q1 2021 Tesla conference call today was that Tesla CEO Elon Musk expects the Model Y to be the top selling light-duty passenger vehicle (top selling car, truck, or SUV) in the world in 2022 or 2023. He said he expects that it’s more likely than not that it will be in 2022.
How many units do you have to sell to be the top selling vehicle in the world in 2022? Well, we don’t know about 2022 yet, but the Toyota Corolla has consistently been the world champ in recent years. It had 1.134 million sales in 2020 and 1.236 million sales in 2019. So, more or less, 1.2 million or 1.3 million sales should get the job done. That’s a lot of sales.
I had toned down my expectations for the Model Y a bit in recent years, but I still expect it to see strong, rapid growth. I see the vehicle all over the place in my area now. It seems like I see it more than the Model 3, Model S, and Model X combined (but on the couple of trips where I’ve tried to confirm this, that wasn’t yet the case). And it’s such an overall appealing package that mixes utility, performance, tech, comfort, and semi-affordable cost that it’s hard to see why many more people wouldn’t buy it.
Also, note that “toning down my expectations” means not assuming what I assumed in 2016. On a quarterly conference call in early August 2016, Elon said that he expected the Model 3 and the Model Y to each have sales demand of 500,000–1,000,000 units per year. My response was, “Stop Smoking Crack,” because I thought there’d be much higher demand for these models, especially the Model Y, in time.
“Maybe I’m the one off my rocker, but I just don’t see anything else on the horizon that competes with these cars,” I wrote at the time. “I hesitate to put a precise number on how high demand for the Model 3 and Model Y will climb, but I’m guessing that’s the case for Elon as well, so he chooses to toss out estimates that are conservative enough to not make unvisionaries discount him as insane, but big enough to show that the auto industry is in for a revolution.”
If Elon’s new forecast for the Model Y is correct, that will indeed mean more than a million sales of the vehicle at steady-state production, which falls into the range Elon originally put out there for the Model Y and Model 3 combined.
Where do you think Model Y annual sales settle? And, for that matter, what about the Model 3? Unfortunately, no one followed up to get an estimate from Elon on how many units of the Model 3 he expects Tesla will sell at full-scale production. I recently put out an estimate for 2021 sales, and I had the Model Y rising above the Model 3 by the end of the year, reaching more than 140,000 sales in the 4th quarter, but I wasn’t brave enough to venture into the land of 2022 and beyond. Also, while the forecast looks ambitious, in light of Elon’s comments today, it now seems quaint. Here are charts of my 2021 forecast following historical sales (deliveries):
Here’s a chart of my 2021 forecast alongside Troy Teslike’s 2021 forecast:
Another way to consider a forecast for Tesla sales is to use the estimate of ~50% sales growth per year, which is what Tesla forecasts. The Model 3 and Model Y had more than 442,000 combined sales (deliveries) in 2020. That would go up to 663,000 in 2022, and then 994,500 in 2023. Even combined, that doesn’t beat the Toyota Corolla, which leaves me scratching my head a bit. How does the Model Y get to 1.3 million annual sales in 2022 or even 2023? Does Elon expect something more like a 75% growth rate for the 3 + Y? Even a 75% growth rate for the next two years for the 3 + Y comes to 1,353,625, and I don’t expect Model 3 sales to be zero. Did he just get a bit excited and not realize the Corolla sees so many annual sales? Does he expect Corolla sales to drop and nothing else to reach that level? Or maybe “Elon time” just kicked in for a moment.
My first reaction to his statement while listening to the call was, “Whoa, that’s great! That’s the news of the day!” As I’ve dug in more, though, I’m scratching my head and confused what the actual forecast is, and what will happen in the end in the real world. We’ll be sure to report back in 2022, 2023, and beyond.
Update: In response to a tweet following the conference call, Elon modified his statement a bit. He noted that the Model Y should be the top selling vehicle in terms of revenue in 2022, and possibly in terms of units in 2023. Clearly, this is a toned down version of what seemed to be stated/implied on the call, but it’s still a wicked goal.
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