The EV maker is catching up with No. 2 Lexus and No. 1 BMW

Tesla has passed Mercedes-Benz for the No. 3 spot in luxury-vehicle registrations this year through September, according to data from Experian.

The electric vehicle maker appears to have enough momentum to close the gap with No. 2 Lexus and U.S. luxury leader BMW before the year is over.

Tesla totaled 230,855 vehicle registrations through the first three quarters of the year, passing Mercedes with 213,708, Experian data showed. Lexus was in second place with 245,864 and BMW was leading the market with 259,237 in the nine-month period.

In last month’s Experian report comparing registrations through August, Mercedes was still in third place but Tesla was surging. This month’s report shows that Tesla sales rose 76 percent compared with the January-September period last year, while Lexus is up 33 percent and BMW 36 percent.

The California automaker’s remarkable rise comes amid a chip shortage that has introduced supply constraints into the battle for luxury buyers. Tesla has been able to weather the semiconductor shortage better than some rivals, partially by using software for functions previously controlled by chips.

“It might be a bit early to say Tesla is surpassing Mercedes in sales permanently, but the fact that it’s managed to do so with a much more limited product line is impressive,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds. She also said Mercedes has been struggling generally with consumers.

“Given where we are with the chip shortage, it’s probably premature to make any sweeping long-term declarations as automakers are grappling with varying degrees of difficulty, but it does show the strength of Tesla,” Caldwell said.

Tesla is also preparing to open its second U.S. factory near Austin, Texas, and is expanding its operations in California, according to CEO Elon Musk.

In addition to its current lineup of two sedans and two crossovers, Tesla plans to launch the Cybertruck pickup next year from the Texas plant, with a massive backlog of pre-orders. Musk has said supply is the problem, not demand.

Tesla has also been steadily raising prices, often sharply and abruptly. Rivals, too, have been charging more for their vehicles at the dealer level, with much higher transaction prices than last year because of supply constraints.

Caldwell said Tesla’s red-hot streak may not last forever, but that the EV maker clearly has momentum compared with legacy rivals as consumer tastes shift.

“Tesla will eventually lose some of its cachet; no brand can be the ‘it brand’ forever,” Caldwell said in an email to Automotive News.

    “But its product portfolio is expanding. So, what Tesla loses in cool, it will gain in opportunities for volume growth, and mainstream luxury players will be under siege for quite a while,” she said.

    In other data from the Experian report this month:

    • Audi was fifth in U.S. luxury-vehicle registrations through September with 170,092. Acura was sixth with 130,703 and Cadillac was seventh with 104,146.
    • EV sales in California are setting the pace for the nation with an 82 percent rise in EV registrations compared with last year, with 118,287 through the third quarter. California accounted for 35 percent of EV registrations.
    • Texas, home to Tesla’s second U.S. factory, is barely a blip on the EV charts. Through September the state notched just 6 percent of EV registrations. Tesla sales did more than double vs. last year to 14,778, suggesting that the Lone Star State is embracing some EV models.

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