One of the more commonly held assumptions about Tesla is that the Model S absolutely owns the U.S. market for large luxury sedans. As we highlighted just last week, recently tabulated data revealed that the Model S moved an estimated 9,156 units last quarter, easily trouncing the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW's 7-Series which each moved 4,921 and 3,634 units, respectively.
As the following chart from Bloomberg illustrates, the Model S is so popular that it almost accounts for 1/3 of the entire U.S. market for large luxury sedans. Tesla enthusiasts, not surprisingly, were all too happy to circulate the chart widely.
It all looks impressive, but it may also be a whole lot of BS. In an interesting post up at Autotrader, Doug DeMuro argues that charts like the one above are incredibly if not purposefully misleading because the Tesla Model S is most definitely not a large luxury sedan. Not only is the Model S physically smaller than many of the cars above, it's also markedly cheaper. Nonetheless, categorizing the Model S as a large luxury sedan provides Tesla with an avenue to make its sales figures appear exceedingly more impressive.
Tesla has fought incredibly hard for media sources to consider the Model S a full-size luxury sedan, for one simple reason: Its sales numbers aren't as impressive if you compare it to more accurate rivals. As I mentioned above, Tesla sold 9,156 units of the Model S during the last quarter. In the same time period, Mercedes-Benz sold 14,672 units of the E-Class. Meanwhile, the 5 Series sold 7,430 units of an aging model nearing replacement. When a redesigned 5 Series last debuted, as it will again in the next few months, it wasn't uncommon to see sales totals well in excess of 5,000 per month -- or 15,000 per quarter. Even the Hyundai Genesis is nipping at the Model S's heels, earning around 2,500 sales per month through 2016.
Interestingly, some folks in the comments were quick to assert that the size classification of of a car isn't necessarily a function of length but is a more practical representation of a vehicle's interior volume.
Addressing this point, DeMuro points out that even when looking at a metric like interior volume, the Model S still pales next to traditional large luxury sedans.
Model S rear leg room: 35.4 inches
BMW 5 Series rear leg room: 35.3 inches
BMW 7 Series rear leg room: 44.4 inches
Mercedes E-Class rear leg room: 35.8 inches
Mercedes S-Class rear leg room: 43.0 inches
The Model S doesn't compete with S-Class and 7 Series any way you slice it.
All the same, the issue isn't strictly black and white. Take pricing, for example. The cheapest Model S one can buy is the Model S 60 which starts at $66,000. However, it's no secret that the average sales price of a Model S is much higher as customers tend to gravitate towards more expensive variants.
So when DeMuro points out that that the respective base price for a Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series is $97,600 and $82,500, it's not necessarily a straight-forward comparison. The cheapest Model S is certainly priced like a mid-size luxury sedan, but most Tesla buyers are spending large luxury sedan money when purchasing their cars.
I don't think there's a clear-cut way to categorize the Model S as there are valid arguments on both sides of the debate. Still, given how much adoration Tesla tends to receive, it's fascinating to see a thoroughly well-researched piece that seeks to take out some of the wind from Tesla's vibrant sails. Make sure to check out DeMuro's full piece via the source link below, along with the subsequent exchanges in the comment section.
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