The Tesla Model 3 Sedan logo at the Paris Motor Show, October 3, 2018. Picture: REUTERS/REGIS DUVIGNAU
The Tesla Model 3 Sedan logo at the Paris Motor Show, October 3, 2018. Picture: REUTERS/REGIS DUVIGNAU

New York — First it was America’s best-selling electric car. Then it became the best-selling luxury car. Now, against the odds, Tesla’s Model 3 is becoming one of the best-selling sedans in America, period.

On Tuesday, car makers reported monthly and quarterly sales totals. For the three months ended September, Tesla delivered more Model 3s than all but four of the top sedans sold in the US, regardless of size or price.

It’s an imperfect ranking because Tesla didn’t break out sales by country, and the Model 3 tally included some deliveries to customers in Canada. And the climb comes at a time when Americans prefer cross-overs, SUVs and truck by an ever-wider margin. Nonetheless, the third-quarter showing was unprecedented for an electric car and a remarkable turnabout for Tesla, which struggled for much of the last year to mass-produce the sedan.

Tesla’s competitors are feeling it. Sales of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the best-selling luxury sedan in the US, plunged 24% last month and are down 28% for the year to the end of September. BMW’s namesake brand barely managed to eke out an increase last month, on the strength of its X3 crossover.

“Tesla is now ramping up their volumes, and it’s putting pressure on that market segment,” Bernhard Kuhnt, CEO of BMW North America, said of the luxury sedan space in an interview on Tuesday. “In that environment, I’m very, very pleased to say we were up.”

BMW unveiled a revamped version of its signature 3 Series sedan on Tuesday at the Paris Motor Show. Its next battery-powered electric vehicle, the iX3, won’t be ready until 2020. By then, Daimler’s Mercedes and Volkswagen’s Audi and Porsche brands should have a slate of electric contenders. Jaguar plans to start delivering its electric I-Pace to US customers next month.

It’s unclear if any of these offerings will have enough appeal to give internal combustion cars a run for their money.

For now, Tesla is the first and only electric car to break into the ranks that are dominated by Japanese and Korean car makers. And it’s doing so at a higher price than other mass-market cars. The most expensive versions of the Model 3 are currently the most popular, with an average selling price approaching $60,000. Tesla says cheaper versions starting at $35,000 — designed to appeal to a wider group of buyers — may be coming around the end of the year.