Counting Cars

Behind the Tesla Controversy

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Rather than drawing conclusions from one month’s worth of results, long-term trends such as rolling 6- or 12-month sales, or year-to-date results, are what those who closely follow the industry use as a better way to gauge an automaker’s health in a particular market.

The sudden ground swell in attention given to Tesla’s sales this past week, and how WardsAuto reports them, has risen to the point that some clarification is needed.

In case you missed it, a Wall Street Journal story earlier this week invoked a barrage of attention on Tesla’s sales as published by WardsAuto. There was nothing wrong with the story, but after it ran Tesla’s stock price dipped, leading to widespread questioning across the blogosphere as to the veracity of our U.S. estimates for the automaker

The furor peaked when Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted a line inferring our September estimate was too low, and the matter got more confusing as Tesla followers on social media and other platforms mixed our year-to-date year-over-year comparison with the September total.

Before I get into the whats and whys, I’ll summarize ahead of time by saying, yes, our first take on monthly sales for a company that does not report U.S. results often is subject to revision, but we are confident that our data in the long run is accurate.

First, our U.S. sales estimate for Tesla, published Oct. 1, includes a year-to-date total of 10,335 units, 26% below the same year-ago period. Our estimate for September alone equaled a 7% decline from our total for September 2013.

Whereas other automakers release their U.S. and Canada sales monthly, usually the first or second day after the period, Tesla does not.

Consequently, to complete the industry summary, we estimate Tesla’s number for the month based on long-term trends and any other information available at the time. If we see a need as more information becomes available, including registration data that often lags by six to eight weeks, we revise each month’s number until it is as accurate as possible.

Because initial information is limited, the first take of any month has some risk.

That said, Tesla’s share of the U.S. market is less than one-tenth of a percent.  Initial estimates and subsequent revisions are not going to move any needles, meaning changes to Tesla do not undermine the rest of the industry data.

Rather than drawing conclusions from one month’s worth of results, long-term trends such as rolling 6- or 12-month sales, or year-to-date results, are what most who follow the industry use as a better way to gauge an automaker’s health in a particular market.

Earlier this year, we added U.S. and Canada sales for Tesla to our database after we concluded that we had enough viable resources to be confident in our estimates.

It’s possible we will revise our September and August totals for Tesla, but expect little or no change in the automaker’s longer term, year-over-year comparisons.

Outside North America, there is good sourcing for countries in Europe. Asia is another story.

Tesla just started selling in that region. However, we are not adding Asia detail for the automaker until we are confident we have enough information to input hard data or make sound estimates.

For the record, even without Asia, the sum total of the countries we track shows Tesla’s global sales through September are 8% above the same period in 2013.

We’ve been open about our Tesla numbers by noting the data is estimated in our charts and freely discussing our estimating methods with our users.

Hopefully, this will put some of the angst that erupted this week to rest. If you have more questions, feel free to contact me or comment below.

hstoddard@wardsauto.com

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What's Counting Cars?

Blogs and commentary about automotive data, industry trends, and the future of the auto industry.

Contributors

John Sousanis

John Sousanis oversees WardsAuto data operations as Director of Information Content, and is Ward’sAuto sales analyst. Follow John on Twitter @CountingCars.  

Haig Stoddard

Haig Stoddard is a veteran automotive industry analyst. His current focus is North America production and longterm sales forecasting.
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