An earthquake has shaken the automotive industry in 2023. It had nothing to do with the post-pandemic effects, or the shortage of semi-conductors, nor was it linked to geopolitical tensions between China and the West. The major event came from a company that turned 20 last year. Tesla, the Californian manufacturer of electric vehicles and one of Elon Musk's first companies, made one of its models the best-selling vehicle in the world.

Although many markets around the world have yet to release full-year sales figures, preliminary data collected by JATO Dynamics and Car Industry Analysis indicates that the Tesla Model Y has taken the lead (final figures will not be available until the second quarter).

Tesla Model Y global sales 2023 - graphic

The data includes final figures from the US and Canada, most of Europe, China, Australia and New Zealand, key Latin American markets, India, selected South East Asian markets, South Korea, Russia, Turkey and Israel. Added to this are the partial December estimates/forecasts for the Middle East and North Africa, Japan, Taiwan, South Africa, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Singapore and Pakistan.

Indicators for these markets show that the Tesla Model Y sold 1.23 million units in 2023. This represents a 64% increase on 2022. Although lower than the annual growth recorded in 2022 compared with 2021 (+91%), this is massive growth in terms of volume.

Queen of Europe and China

The Model Y has excelled in Europe and China, the world's two biggest markets for electric vehicles. According to figures released by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, more than 456,000 units of the Tesla were shipped to the Asian giant, representing growth of 45%.

Toyota RAV4 global sales 2023 - graphic

As expected, in Europe, the Model Y outstripped registrations of best-selling cars such as the Dacia Sandero, Peugeot 208 and Volkswagen T-Roc. Figures for 30 markets show that the brand registered over 255,000 units, more than 19,000 units more than the second most popular car, the Dacia Sandero.

According to the brand's official delivery figures, the Model Y should account for two out of every three vehicles delivered by Tesla in 2023. That's a significant proportion of the total.

Toyota falls from the throne

The Model Y's impressive results have come at the expense of the usual world leaders: the Toyota RAV4 and the Toyota Corolla. These two vehicles have dominated the world rankings in recent years. Toyota's strong global presence and the competitiveness of the RAV4 as an SUV and the Corolla as a compact car have allowed them to hold this position for years.

However, neither of these models is present in the fastest growing pure electric vehicle market today. As Toyota products, they have concentrated on hybrid powertrains to gain ground around the world. And while this has worked very well for Toyota in terms of sales, it now lacks a major growth driver in markets such as China and Europe.

Toyota Corolla global sales 2023 - graphic

Data from JATO and Car Industry Analysis show that second place is occupied by the Toyota RAV4 (aka Toyota Wildlander) with 1.07 million units. This compact SUV will be six years old in March, a year older than the Model Y, and in 2022 it will be the world's second biggest seller with 1.02 million units. In third place is the Toyota Corolla (aka Toyota Levin) with all its body styles and 1.01 million cars sold.

The author of the article, Felipe Munoz, is an automotive industry specialist at JATO Dynamics