Last month’s Frankfurt auto show was positively crackling with EV news, as Audi, BMW and Porsche presented concept EVs, Mitsubishi showed its 2016 Outlander PHEV, and several suppliers touted tech advances. However, the comparatively low-key presence of electric trendsetter Tesla – which was showing red, white and blue Model S but no Model X – struck Automotive News as a metaphor for the company’s so-so sales in Germany to date.
Tesla sold 958 Model S in Germany in the first eight months of 2015, according to the country’s Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA). By comparison, US sales in the first half were 11,700, says IHS Automotive.
More generally, European EV sales are up sharply – Tesla said in August that its first-half sales grew by over 50 percent. In Norway, Model S is one of the country’s best-selling vehicles, with 2,674 sales in the first half, per EV Obsession.
One obvious reason for the disparity: Norway’s array of EV subsidies and goodies is the most generous in Europe, while Germany offers little beyond some free charging and such. This may change soon. “Germany will have no choice but to offer further support,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel in June. “We will once again study all instruments of support that are also available internationally.”
Tesla may also be finding it hard to tempt German car buyers away from their beloved national brands (although their ardor for diesels may recently have cooled). BMW’s i3 outsold the Model S by 30% through August.
In any case, all of the German automakers are diligently working on new EVs of their own – and that suits Tesla just fine.
“For us to achieve our long-term goal, which is to get people driving electric vehicles, we need the cooperation of traditional carmakers,” said Tesla Communications Chief Ricardo Reyes. “When you hear companies like Porsche or BMW make very public commitments to this, it’s a vindication of what we’re trying to do.”
Elon Musk addressed the issue in an interview with the German magazine Handelsblatt. “Our car has always had excellent acceleration, but its operation at high speed wasn’t that great,” he said. “And in Germany, which is really the only place where people experience truly high speeds, that wasn’t so well-received. We have worked hard to tailor our car to high speeds. Now the car not only delivers consistently good performance but we have also greatly reduced noise and vibration.”
He also acknowledged that more government incentives would be helpful. “For a very large auto market, Germany has the worst incentives for electric vehicles. I think the government is listening too closely to what the big German automakers say. I think the public understands better than the politicians and the automakers.”