Since 2009 global cars sales have been escalating steadily. After the end of the Global Financial Crisis, which saw major motor companies in the US receive very generous bail-out packages from the US Government, selling motor cars has become the industry de jour. In 2016, 88 million new cars and light commercial vehicles were sold worldwide, which was an increase of almost 5% on the previous year.
The trends in car sales have changed over the years, with a rise in the popularity of the SUV and the dual cab pickup taking some market away from the small sedans and hatchbacks that have dominated in previous years. The people mover and the large family sedan are fading into history as consumers design their purchasing choices around versatility and relative fuel efficiency. An examination of the 20 top selling cars around the world over the last 12 months will help us examine those trends.
- Honda Civic
Available since 1972 the Civic has evolved into a sporty mid-sized sedan/hatch, with the technology edge that buyers would expect from a leading Japanese manufacturer. The car offers external styling that is, unfortunately, closely matched with other cars in its space (most specifically the Mazda 6) which may be facilitating its bleeding market share. Nonetheless the current model Civic retains the high operating standards of its predecessors, and is a worthy contributor to open out the top 20.
Honda’s quality reputation is showcased beautifully with this car, which has certainly been put together with the intention of creating an enjoyable driving experience. They have succeeded magnificently, with the current model connecting the driver to the road seamlessly.
- Honda Jazz
Known as the Fit in Japan, China and the US, the Honda Jazz is one of the few Supermini Hatchbacks making its way into the top 20. Designed for versatility, and with Honda’s technology pack crammed in, the Jazz represents incredible value of money, albeit in a car that will not appeal to everyone. One of the smallest cars on the list, the Jazz nonetheless manages to fit in 18 seating combinations to maximise the interior space, without missing any of the driver assistance systems necessary for a car that is priced to appeal to inexperienced drivers.
Rear parking cameras are standard throughout the range, as is a touch screen entertainment system and smooth Bluetooth connectivity. Aimed clearly at city drivers, the introduction of Autonomous Emergency Braking (Citystop) is necessary for the Jazz to find a place higher in this list, as is the inclusion of Apple Carplay into the entertainment system.
- Ford Mondeo/Fusion
Rebadged as the Fusion in the US (in line with the Blue Oval’s global naming strategy), the Ford Mondeo is an extremely capable mid-size sedan/hatchback that is surprisingly pleasant to drive. With European styling maximising the interior space, the Mondeo has been designed with one eye on the driver experience.
Comfort, versatility, and performance are easily matched, with the Mondeo offering maximum visibility while equipping the driver with the modern Safety Assistance Technologies that are essential for a vehicle of this size (including Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Parking Camera and Sensors, and Adaptive Cruise Control). The quality of the Mondeo belies its place on this list, however, with the vehicle’s popularity waning over the last few iterations. This is not an indictment on the car however, but more a reflection of the changing market environment.
- Volkswagen Jetta
A sedan version of the incredibly popular Volkswagen Golf (Spoiler Alert – the Golf is number 2 on this list), the Jetta has sold more than 15,000,000 units since its introduction by VW in 1979. Comfortably seating 4 adults (or 5 a little uncomfortably), the Jetta is one of 4 Volkswagen’s in the top 20, despite the PR nightmare the company experienced with the Diesel-gate debacle in late 2015.
The primary appeal of the Jetta (and the other VW offerings) is that they represent the strength of European styling and design without carrying the prestige price. The Jetta, while performing strongly for VW year in and year out, doesn’t quite capture the imagination of the buying public the way the Golf has.
- Ram Pickup
The first light commercial cross-over on the list, the Dodge Ram plays hard in its chosen market of the USA. Manufactured by Fiat Chrysler, the Ram is in its fourth generation, and is an immensely capable pickup truck which claims the mantle for having the highest customer loyalty in its class.
The design and application of the Ram have, however, changed over the years. Originally exclusively appealing to the tradesman as a powerful and versatile work truck, Ram Trucks have recognised their customers are now seeking a work vehicle that serves dual purposes: mobile office during the week, capable family car over the weekends. The Ram’s aggressive styling is indicative the US market, but may be serving to reduce its appeal in other countries.
- Volkswagen Lavida
The Lavida is a VW sedan designed and delivered specifically into China, and despite not being available anywhere else in the world, has made its way to number 15 on the list. This remarkable result, if nothing else, is a measure of the success of the brand. It is also a reflection of the respect VW pays to the Chinese market, and the work they have undertaken to understand the purchasing triggers and deliver a car which, in only its second generation, has fundamentally captured the imagination of the country.
- Hyundai Elantra
The Elantra is Hyundai’s only entry into the top 20 list, however the growing popularity of the i30 hatchback and Tucson SUV suggests it won’t be alone for long. Pushing hard into the Chinese market the Elantra is mid-sized sedan offering sporty styling and crisp performance without sacrificing fuel efficiency. Powered by the same 2.0l engine as the Korean manufacturer’s flagship i30 (the Elantra is effectively a sedan version of the award-winning i30), the Elantra demonstrates another example of a manufacturer perfectly reading its market. The success of the Elantra is delivering penetration into China for Hyundai’s slightly larger Sonata.
- Chevrolet Silverado
The 2nd of 3 large pickup trucks on the list, the Silverado is an example of American machismo being compressed into a motor vehicle. With a wide body and brute, muscular styling, the Silverado is a more heavily styled duplicate of the GMC Siera. The relative success of the Chevrolet variant then is a reflection of the value of the Chevy brand in the USA, rather than an indication of the quality of either vehicle.
Like Ram Trucks, Chevrolet is evolving the Silverado to serve the work ute/family car dual purpose by modernising the interior for comfort while continuing to ramp up the power and performance of the engine. Fuel efficiency is not design metric on this truck, however the quite visceral feeling of the rumbling V8 engine is one of the appeals.
- Volkswagen Polo
Continuing Volkswagen’s intrusion into China, the Polo is the only other supermini hatch in the top 20 (along with the Honda Jazz). Volkswagen’s reputation for affordability and European design quality is instrumental in the vehicle’s success, however, as is their intuitive and measured reading of the Chinese market (where Polo gains its maximum sway).
The near-monstrous manufacturing strength of VW help deliver unprecedented technology and features into the Polo however, providing a value for money proposition for the small hatchback that is difficult to ignore.
- Toyota Camry
A stalwart of Toyota’s fleet since 1982, the Camry is the last of the mid-sized sedans on this list (a list that is devoid of large sedans). The Camry has been an enormous success for the Japanese manufacturer, and is now in its 8th generation. With the R&D power of one of the largest manufacturers in the world, the Camry remains top of class for specification and performance, while riding on the company’s reputation for reliability and durability.
Despite the continued high quality delivery of the Camry, the car is seeing its appeal slip as the market for family-sized sedans deteriorates, replaced with the increased versatility of the SUV.
- Ford Escape/Kuga
It is no surprise that hitting the top 10 has seen the first SUV entrant to the list, and that the Camry (at number 11) is the last mid-sized sedan. The Ford Escape (previously named the Kuga, with the name change intended to reflect Ford’s global naming strategy), is a well-designed and advanced Small SUV that has been delivered to compete globally with the Rav 4 and X Trail.
- Honda CR-V
The Honda CR-V has been an integral part of the Honda fleet since first introduced in 1996, and fills a slot as the family SUV. While the CR-V is gradually adopting the sleek appeal of Honda’s sporty range of sedans and hatchbacks, it is still considered something of an ugly duckling. This shouldn’t be considered a detraction of the brand however, as many manufacturers have struggled to deliver an appealing looking vehicle in this class (with the possible exception of Nissan’s X Trail and Pathfinder).
Delivering reliable power where necessary, the CR-V carries the technology edge one would expect from Honda. There does, however, appear to be a gap developing in this segment between the broad-spread manufacturers like Toyota, and the boutique brands. Honda will need to work on this area if they intend to retain their space on the list.
- Toyota Rav 4
The Rav 4 has the unique distinction of being a long running model that has become gradually less attractive to look at. While Toyota are clearly aiming for a sharp, focused silhouette, the current styling of the Rav 4 has missed the mark. Despite this (albeit subjective) opinion, however, the Rav 4 continues to perform for Toyota annually.
The SUV was first delivered to the market in 1994 and is credited as creating the cross-over SUV label, and spawning dozens of imitations, many of which are on this list. With the production might of the Toyota Motor Company behind it, and the genuine reliability engendered with the brand, the Rav 4 remains an in-offensive, and ultimately appealing offer in the segment.
- Honda HR-V
A compressed version of Honda’s CR-V, the HR-V suffers from the same styling mistakes as the larger vehicle. That being said the gradual design enhancements being rolled out across the brand will no doubt pay dividends for Honda in the long run.
The HR-V was released in 2015, and was immediately successful, jumping straight to number 7 globally. The success of the vehicle has led to a re-design of the larger CR-V as Honda seek to use the side-by-side development of both vehicles to accelerate their success.
- Nissan X Trail
Nissan have hit the high-water mark in styling with the X Trail, however they have also used the platform to deliver a clean and simple driving experience, partnered with cargo flexibility and the overall versatility that drivers expect from a modern SUV. The aggressive pricing strategy Nissan have delivered on the entry-level model has seen the car become highly popular in the fleet space, which no doubt contributes to its ranking on this list.
However, it is the street appeal and careful design that has seen the car leap from 13th on this list 12 months ago, to its current ranking of 6. The X Trail is a genuine success story for Nissan during a period when the company has concentrated on the SUV segment.
- Ford Focus
Globally available and recognisable as the Focus, Ford’s hot hatch has become a sales leader for the company. First delivered to the market in 1998, the hatchback has become a focal point for Ford’s corporate identity, with the success of the car giving Ford the opportunity to manufacture and deliver its other, more boutique offerings (like the Mustang).
Available in a family-oriented variant, as well as the warmed-up RS sports variant (complete with burnout function) the Focus has been delivered to appeal to a broad spectrum of the market, which is no doubt an element of its success.
- Ford F-150
On the other end of the spectrum the F-150 (and the broader range of F Series pickup trucks) are designed to appeal to a single element of the market, yet the pickup continues its reign as Ford’s bestselling vehicle. A part of Ford’s offering since 1948, the F-150 is now in it’s 13th generation, and is one of the most-recognisable trucks on the road in the US and Canada (it has been the bestselling Pickup in the US since 1977 and is the bestselling vehicle of any type in Canada.
The introduction of a Diesel motor into the range has enhanced the F-150’s reputation for pulling power, without detracting from the throaty grumble of the engine noise. With improved interior styling and ride comfort to ensure the truck is hitting the dual-purpose function, the F-150 is the pickup all the other trucks want to be.
- Wuling Hong Guang
The only genuine people mover in the list (some of the SUVs area available in 7 seat variants), the Wuling Hong Guang is one of the most popular cars in China and India (where it is released as the Chevrolet Enjoy), guaranteeing its place high in the list. Released in 2013, the Hong Guang is an 8 seater, with a 1.5l engine and basic manual transmission. Perfect for families, and for tour and taxi operators, the versatility of the car, combined with the fuel efficiency and low entry cost has provided for its dominance in the selected markets. On this list it holds a very high place surrounded by vehicles with much higher pedigrees, evidence that it has been perfectly designed and marketed for high–population markets.
- Volkswagen Golf
The most popular car from one of the most recognisable names in the motor industry, the Golf has been available since 1974. During that time VW have exerted an extraordinary level of R&D into making the Golf a leader in its class (albeit it is pipped by the next vehicle on the list). Carrying the reputation of quality that comes from the VW label, the Golf is efficient, versatile, nimble and above all, an enormous amount of fun to drive.
In addition, the Golf is one of the few vehicles in the top 20 available in an Electric Vehicle (EV) variant, a capability that does two things for VW. First, it mitigates the company’s disastrous Diesel-gate scandal, and second, it delivers longevity to the car in a manufacturing environment where EV’s are quickly developing into a dominant design trend.
- Toyota Corolla
In production since 1966 the Corolla first appeared at the top of this list in 1974, and has made regular appearances since. Now in its 11th generation, the small hatchback has been a mainstay of Toyota’s line-up for 50 years. The smooth ride, modern aesthetic, and strong fuel efficiency makes for a wide appeal, and the reputation for reliability that is synonymous with the Toyota brand does nothing to detract from this position.
Available in a sedan and hatchback, the largest market for the Corolla is China, where the Japanese brand continues to make significant gains despite China’s growing local manufacturing. Appealing to students, young families, and baby boomers alike with its competitive price point and class-leading manoeuvrability, it is no surprise that the Corolla has taken the top spot on this list. The Corolla is as ageless as Toyota itself.