The Beetle, the Model T, and the Civic are just some of the best-selling cars of all time, but what’s number one? Keep reading to find out!
There are maybe more choices than ever for car shoppers these days. From EVs to diesel, pickups to compacts, and commuters to family haulers, there’s a lot of variety. Becoming one of the best-selling cars of all time with so much competition is difficult. The more competition, the harder it is to stand out, and the better one has to be. After all, consumer trust doesn’t come easy.
Looking at the list of the best-selling cars of all time, you’ll notice some trends: a long production life, availability in several markets, and wide appeal. Some of the success could be attributed to changing with the times and throwing a popular nameplate on different vehicles, but without confidence from shoppers and the manufacturer, a vehicle isn’t going to amount to the kinds of sales figures below. So, who beat the odds? Which vehicles made it to 10, 20, 25 million sales and beyond? Some answers may surprise you. Take a look.
As a replacement for the Ford Escort, the Ford Focus was released to European markets in 1998. Production in North America began in 1999 as a three-door hatchback, four-door sedan, and five-door wagon. Compact cars were popular at the time and the Focus fit the bill. Ford took a different approach with European and North American models for second generation models, giving the North American Focus an interior and exterior redesign. The vehicle sold well enough for a while, but, by 2018, Ford discontinued all North American passenger vehicles other than the Mustang, solely focusing on trucks and SUVs. Overseas, it’s a different story. A fourth-generation Focus is still sold in many European countries, even if the sales are limited. Regardless of the ups and downs with this vehicle, Ford still managed to sell millions of Ford Focus models.
Like most entries on this list, the Chevrolet Impala debuted decades ago, in 1958 to be exact. It’s hard to achieve millions of car sales without at least a couple of decades of production. Also like several entries on this list, the Chevy Impala was discontinued, then revived, and then discontinued. Various shapes and designs were used as tastes and trends changed with each passing decade. It’s been a full-sized model, a convertible, a four-door sedan, and a FWD car. Chevy first set an all-time industry annual sales record of more than 1 million units with the 1965 Chevy Impala. From 1965 to 1970, the fourth generation Chevy Impala dominated the marketplace. Over 12 generations of vehicles, the Chevy Impala became Chevy’s highest-selling vehicle. You can read all about every generation in our ‘Chevrolet Impala Through the Years’ feature.
It was a different world when the Model T was first introduced in 1908. As one of the first mass production vehicles, the Model T sold the vehicle for between $260 and $850, passing production savings on to customers. This revolutionary vehicle was very versatile, traversing rocky landscapes and steep inclines. The Model T captured the attention of Americans and people from other countries, too. By the early 1920s, more than half the registered automobiles worldwide were registered as a Ford. The legendary vehicle still interests people today. In fact, we have an entire Cars For Sale article on, ‘How to Drive a Model T.’ Before the Model T ended production in May 1927, more than 15 million Model T’s were built and sold.
After an oil crisis in 1973, Ford jumped on the subcompact car craze, putting out the Ford Fiesta hatchback as a viable option for car buyers who wanted a more fuel-efficient vehicle. It was sold overseas for several years before the sixth generation Ford Fiesta made its way to the United States in 2011. That Fiesta was sold worldwide. So many of the Fiesta sales were made in the United Kingdom that it was Britain’s most popular car in 1990, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998 and every year between 2009 and 2020. With 4.15 million vehicles sold by July of 2014, the Ford Fiesta became the UK’s best-selling car of all time. Learn more about the Ford Fiesta and catch a hatchback showdown by clicking on ‘Budget Buy $10,000: Fiesta vs. Golf.’
Way back in May of 1975, the German-based BMW started producing the BMW 3 Series. It followed the 2 Series and is now seven generations into its production run. Some variations include: a two-door coupe to a two-door convertible to a three-door hatchback. The M Sport models began with the 3 Series. The first North America production of the BMW 3 Series began in 1976 in the form of the E21. In 2010, the vehicle made up 30% of BMW’s annual total sales. Now, the 3 Series is BMW’s best-selling model. The seventh generation, which started in 2018, continues to draw in loyal enthusiasts year after year. To learn more about the entire history of the 3 Series, read our BMW 3 Series Through the Years piece.
The Opel Corsa isn’t as prolific as some of the other vehicles on this list, but the sales figures show that it’s just as successful, especially in the UK. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Corsa is a supermini car that has been manufactured by German-based Opel since the early 1980s. Some may be more familiar with the Vauxhall Corsa, the Chevrolet Corsa, or the Holden Corsa. That’s because it has been sold under five General Motors marquees in five body styles. Part of its appeal is that the Corsa is affordable, stylish, and compact. At one point in 1998, the Corsa was the best-selling car in the world with 910,839 cars sold on four continents. Twenty years later, in 2018, 878,747 Opel Corsa vehicles were sold. Sales figures like that, year after year, have added up in a big way. Just like most long-standing vehicles, the Corsa has gone through facelifts and a continuing evolution that includes hybrid models.
Honda was already selling in cars in the United States for seven years when it first introduced the Honda Accord in 1977. The Accord, a larger Honda option than the Civic, was released as a two-door hatchback. The second-generation models, produced in November 1982, were built in Ohio with more horsepower and a bigger engine. Known for a simple design and fuel-efficiency, the vehicle became a hit in America and in other markets. Honda celebrated the Accord’s 40th anniversary in June 2016 with over 13 million units sold worldwide at the time. Sales haven’t slowed much since then. Still an active, and large, part of the Honda lineup, the 10th generation of the Honda Accord started in 2018. You can view photos and read detailed analysis of by looking at our reviews of the 2021 Honda Accord and 2020 Honda Accord.
For readers in North America, when you hear the words, ‘Ford Escort,’ you probably get a different image than readers overseas. The North American Ford Escort was produced from 1980 to 2003 as a compact car. The European version was produced from 1968 to 2000, with a boxier shape. This is the version that is beloved by UK drivers, and the one we chose as one of the 7 Greatest Rally Cars of All Time. It was introduced in Ireland and the UK by the end of 1967. Eight years later, the Escort was the UK’s best-selling model, reaching a peak in the 1980s and 1990s. Prince Charles even bought one for the late Princess Diana as an engagement present. Combining the North American Ford Escorts and the UK Ford Escorts, different as they were in style and components, this vehicle made a mark.
Another popular vehicle in the United Kingdom is the Lada Riva. This vehicle can also be found in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and several other countries. It was introduced in 1979 in the then Soviet Union and spread from there. The VAZ-2105, 2014, and 2017 are all marketed as Lada Riva, Lada Nova, or a handful of other names. By whatever name it’s branded as, the Lada Riva is based on an old Lada 1500, which was a copy of an old Fiat 124 sedan. Body styles have ranged from a 2-door pickup to a 4-door sedan to a 5-door station wagon. Popular because of its low price, the vehicle did sell. The cars may have been pulled from several European markets in the late 1990s due to safety and emissions problems, but it’s still a popular second-hand vehicle. Unreliable as it is or was, the Lada Riva made a mark.
Honda has found success around the globe with the Honda Civic due to its affordability and reliability. On top of that, it’s got good gas mileage. Impressive driver assists and infotainment features are packed into a snappy, stylish vehicle. It was first introduced in 1972, which was just before the 1973 oil crisis, so people were looking for fuel-efficient vehicles. The second generation, out in 1979 as a 1980 model, had more engine power. It didn’t take long for the Civic to become popular in the U.S., Canada and all over the world. The Civic was Canada’s best-selling car in 1998 and several years since then. It’s a similar situation in the U.S., with the Honda Civic reaching 377,286 units sold in 2017 alone. We’ve published ‘Honda Civic Through The Years’ for a thorough look at this compact giant that’s been dominating markets for decades.
What can one say about the Volkswagen Beetle? From pop culture to neighborhood roads, it’s all over. This may be the most visible and recognizable vehicle on the list. It’s also one of the longest production cars ever built. We published the Volkswagen Beetle Through the Years to take a look at its long history. With origins that date back to the 1930s, there’s quite a bit of history to cover.
The first Beetle boom happened after World War II. A fast car that was built well and didn’t guzzle too much gas became a fast favorite for car buyers from all corners of the globe. The original Beetle peaked in 1971 with 1.3 million vehicles produced. By 2003, that number dropped to 30,000 a year.
As Volkswagen proved with the New Beetle, people have an affinity for the classics. A bit of nostalgia can go a long way, so it’s possible the Beetle could, one day, make another comeback. Even if that doesn’t happen, the Volkswagen Beetle has a solid ranking as one of the most sold vehicles of all time. That legacy isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
It’s hard to imagine a car more well-known than the Beetle, but the Volkswagen Passat has sold more units than the Beetle. The North American Passat is being discontinued after a limited-edition 2022 model, but Volkswagen more than got their worth out of it. Volkswagen hit 117,023 U.S. sales in 2012. The midsized sedan has been passed over in North America for SUVs and other, larger models in recent years, though. The original Passat was put out in 1973.
Although it’s been marketed under other names, the Passat is now in its eighth generation and is sold all over the world. The vehicles aren’t all made the same, though. The China Passat, for example, has different models that are based on the MQB platform. It has a longer wheelbase than the European B8 Passat. Slightly altering each Passat to cater to different regions seems to have paid off for Volkswagen. If it can sell more than the Beetle, then Volkswagen must be doing something right.
Volkswagen’s third entry (and highest) on this list is the Volkswagen Golf. It’s the most sold Volkswagen model ever. Considering there’s more than one Volkswagen on this list, that’s quite an achievement in and of itself. The Golf has been sold in various body configurations and under several nameplates, like the Volkswagen Rabbit and the Caribe. It’s been the top-selling car in Europe for 14 consecutive years now. Sales in the U.S. haven’t been as steady as some other countries.
These VW hatchbacks are fighting for sales, competing against SUVs and crossovers. Over the course of nearly 50 years, the Golf has become an automotive powerhouse. Continuing the evolution of this vehicle, which was first manufactured in 1974, Volkswagen has jumped on the EV bandwagon, offering an all-electric version of the Golf called the e-Golf. Our ‘Volkswagen Golf Through the Years’ article has even more insight on the humble beginnings of this little compact.
Talk about a sales juggernaut! The Ford F-Series pickup, including the F-150, has been America’s best-selling vehicle for 39 consecutive years. It’s been a top-selling vehicle (even when it didn’t take the top spot) for 44 straight years. Dominant isn’t even the right word for that kind of success. So, what is the fascination with the Ford F-150? As we describe in our 2021 Ford F-150 review, it’s certainly versatile.
Whether it’s for a specific job on a construction site, for a grocery store trip in town, or for a workhorse on the farm, the F-150 can get it done. Rain, sleet and snow? The F-150 can travel through it. Rough terrain? It can handle it. From more off-roading models to luxury to high performance versions, the commonality is that Ford puts out a capable pickup truck. You’re not as likely to see these hefty vehicles rolling around the tight streets of some smaller European countries, but that hasn’t hurt Ford’s success with the F-150 so far.
The Toyota Corolla is one of the handful of vehicles on this list that is still in production. In fact, it just released the 2022 Toyota Corolla Cross. You can look at photos and read the latest details in our Sneak Peak: New 2022 Toyota Corolla Cross post. The Corolla lineup has featured sedans, wagons, and hatchbacks since the first-generation launched in 1966. They were already making a big splash by the mid-1970s as one of the best-selling cars in the world, but they did make some improvements.
One improvement to be made was becoming more fuel-efficient. By 1983, the engines were more powerful. Front-wheel drive was an option. The 1990s brought bigger and faster cars, but a big part of Toyota’s success with the Corolla was safety and reliability. Obviously, the Corolla has rolled on with its winning formula, upgrading with new technology along the way. Now in its 12th generation of production, the Toyota Corolla is currently sold in 150 countries and regions.
This list is ever-changing. It could look significantly different in the next 10 years. Granted, it’d be very hard for the Model T to climb its way up the list when it’s not in production. However, car companies have a history of bringing back nameplates and rebadging vehicles, especially if there’s success attached to a certain name. I guess it’s possible, though probably unlikely, that some of these would ever be brought back for another generation and another run.
There are also several vehicles currently in production just waiting to take a spot here. Depending on how their sales go, one of them could move up the ladder and knock one of these all-time best-sellers off the list.