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Who buys Teslas? Prius owners and drivers of exotic cars

Who buys a Tesla? Very wealthy people and Toyota Prius owners.

That’s the conclusion of an analysis of vehicle registrations by IHS Automotive analyst Tom Libby.

About 15.5% of Tesla Model S buyers owned a Toyota-brand vehicle at the time of the purchase, Libby said. The numbers don't make clear whether they were trading in the Toyota or adding the electric sports sedan to a garage that also had a car from the Japanese automaker, he said.

Toss in Toyota’s Lexus luxury division, and the data is even more startling. More than a quarter -- 25.3% -- of Tesla buyers in the United States owned a Toyota-manufactured vehicle at the time of their Model S purchase.

“The Toyota conquests by the Model S are being driven by the Prius, which is the No. 1 model conquested by the Model S,” Libby said.

Toyota’s Highlander and Sienna are fifth and sixth on the list of models. Nissan’s electric Leaf sedan ranks seventh.

“The fact that the Prius and Leaf both rank so high on the Model S conquest list suggests that the S now gives hybrid-/EV-inclined purchasers an opportunity to move up to a vehicle that is clearly a hybrid or electric like their current model but more luxurious and upscale than their current car and more stylish as well,” Libby said.

Not surprisingly, Mercedes-Benz and BMW also were well-represented. Nearly 11% of Tesla buyers owned a Benz, and 10% had a Bimmer.

Considering that the Tesla’s price starts at $71,070 before any federal or state incentives for purchasing an electric car, it’s not surprising that owners of other luxury cars are big buyers.

This trend becomes even more pronounced when the registration data is adjusted by number of vehicles a company sells, Libby said. Besides the green ethos of a Prius, Toyota is at the top of the list because it has so many cars on the road that buyers own or are trading in, he said.

Libby also spun the registration numbers to adjust for how many cars a manufacturer has sold. 

He discovered that McLaren supercar owners are the most likely to buy a Tesla when they go car shopping. They don’t account for many Tesla sales because McLaren owners number just in the hundreds to low thousands in the U.S., compared with the millions of Toyota owners. 

Lotus, Ferrari, Aston Martin and Maserati owners also were more likely than the owners of other brands to buy a Tesla, Libby said.

Why are exotic car owners big into Teslas?

“It is either because they are so wealthy that they can add another toy to the collection,” Libby said, “or they could be looking for a more practical vehicle. They have a family of five and it’s hard to take them anywhere in a Lamborghini.”

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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