Tesla Popularity Contest: Model S Mania in Washington State

A Tesla store in Seattle Photograph by Paul Gordon/Alamy

With all the ecstatic news around Tesla Motors—topping $20 billion in market value this week, winning quality awards, destroying safety tests—it’s easy to overlook just how few of these mean, green, electric machines have made it onto the roads so far. While the company is on pace to produce 21,000 vehicles this year, only about 12,700 of the Model S luxury sedan have been delivered to date.

With the help of Hedges & Co., an Ohio-based auto researcher, we crunched the numbers on new-vehicle registrations for the first half of 2013 to figure out where to find the most Teslas.

By sheer numbers, of course, California claims the crown as the Land of Tesla. Almost 5,000 Teslas were registered in the Golden State during the first half of 2013—that’s roughly half of the company’s total output. Given Tesla’s Silicon Valley headquarters, and the abundance of wealthy, early-adopter types who can afford the $70,000-plus sticker price, there’s a fair dose of home-field advantage. California sales are also spurred by a number of state and local subsidies, though, incentives that sweeten the $7,500 federal tax rebate buyers get on Teslas anywhere in the country.

Tesla buyers in Washington State, however, have the additional perk of skipping state sales taxes and emissions inspections on the vehicle, which may be a big reason the state has the highest ratio of Model S registrations relative to all other new passenger car registrations this year. By this density metric, which corrects for California’s bigger population, Washington is the top state for Teslas. In the first half of the year, Washingtonians registered one Tesla for every 100 passenger cars, according to Hedges. Californians bought 107 other cars for every Tesla, with Washington, D.C., Hawaii, and Oregon rounding out the top-five list for Teslas.

When asked about sales trends, Tesla spokeswoman Shanna Hendriks says the car has the most traction in “green-minded” places. It follows that those states are also home to a relatively high number of Tesla showrooms and service centers. The company doesn’t have a shop anywhere near Idaho or Montana, but it has one in Honolulu and another in downtown Washington, D.C. (On the other end of the spectrum: There were just three Teslas registered in the Dakotas by the end of June—the nearest showrooms are in Minneapolis and Denver.)

There’s also a bit of a multiplier effect at play as Tesla buyers crow about their new rides. “Where we have cars, we’re going to sell more cars,” Hendriks says. “Our customers are actually being our salespeople.”

The data set is painfully small. While Tesla is aiming to produce about 5,000 cars every three months, U.S. buyers are snapping up almost 4 million new vehicles each quarter. But the numbers show fairly clearly that Tesla’s direct-to-consumer sales model is working, even in states where it’s been attacked by car dealers. Massachusetts is at No. 10 on our list of Tesla-dense states, while local dealers have engaged in a protracted legal and legislative battle against the company.

Texas, meanwhile, ranks 18th on the list despite the fact that Tesla isn’t allowed to give test drives in the Lone Star State or even tell prospective buyers how much the car costs. “It’s kind of a pain for Texans to do business with us,” says Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s vice president in charge of business development. “But I think it’s reasonable to assume that if people want the product bad enough, they’ll find out how to do it.”

Graphic by Stephanie Davidson

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