Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated sales data provided by Tesla and the source of all other sales data.
Tesla Motors Inc. is facing some serious challenges keeping up with its ever-expanding ambitions, but one thing is certain: It’s selling a lot of luxury cars.
Tesla’s U.S. sales of its Model S sedan jumped 59 percent over the same quarter last year, increasing its already sizable lead among large luxury cars, according to internal third-quarter sales numbers -- which Tesla usually keeps confidential -- and competitor data compiled by the automaker.
Tesla says it’s now responsible for almost a third of all sales in the segment. Its nearest competitors are the newly updated BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
In the luxury SUV and crossover market, Tesla says U.S. sales of the Model X totaled 5,428 in the third quarter, good enough for 6 percent of the luxury market. That’s its highest mark yet after production issues plagued the rollout of the vehicle earlier this year. According to Tesla’s data, the Model X outsold Porsches and Land Rovers but trailed seven SUV models made by Mercedes, BMW, Cadillac, Volvo, Audi, and Lexus.
Kenn Sparks, a spokesman for BMW, declined to directly address Tesla’s data. “The numbers do show that electric cars are progressing and continuing to gain in popularity,” Sparks said in an email. “That’s ultimately good for us all.” Spokespeople for Mercedes didn’t respond to an email request for comment.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk had been pushing employees to sell as many cars as possible in an effort to achieve a profitable quarter before the company needs to increase spending. Tesla is trying to acquire SolarCity Corp. and preparing to roll out its lower-priced sedan, the Model 3, late next year.
The numbers represented in these two classes of luxury vehicles are small compared with the 17 million cars and trucks sold in the U.S. last year. Tesla is hoping to replicate the success of the Model S with its $35,000 Model 3 -- a daunting prospect that includes completion of a massive battery factory in Nevada, expansion of its factory in California, and the build-out of a global sales and service network.
The Model 3 will be one of the more affordable cars in the entry-level luxury class, and if Musk can achieve his forecast of building 500,000 Teslas a year by 2018, the automaker could find itself atop three categories of luxury cars. But that’s a big if.