The best way to measure the success of a vehicle is by looking at the number of units built and sold throughout its lifespan.
Over the years, various manufacturers have introduced popular models that have since become household names all around the world. These include the likes of the Toyota Corolla (which recently hit a 50 million global sales milestone), Ford’s F-Series trucks, and the Volkswagen Beetle, to name a few.
But what are the world’s best-selling vehicles? Below we’ll list down some of the most popular and most significant models with high sales figures throughout automotive history.
#1: 50 million units - Toyota Corolla (1966 - present)
No matter what part of the world you are in, chances are you will find a Corolla there. The model is effectively synonymous with the Toyota name since it is sold in over 150 different countries. The numbers prove it too. It is the brand’s best-selling model of all time, after all.
The Japanese auto giant recently announced that the Corolla has sold 50 million units globally, making it one of, if not the world’s best-selling car of all time. What makes the Corolla’s success story even more interesting is the model’s relatively young age. Unlike other top-selling vehicles, Toyota only introduced the first-generation model in November 1966. As a result, the nameplate will only be turning 55 years old later this year.
Since its introduction, the Corolla has continuously evolved and is now in its 12th generation. While it has been available in different body styles over the year, and it is most popular in Asia as a 4-door sedan. However, only recently was it offered as a crossover in the form of the Corolla Cross. With it, expect Toyota to reach even bigger figures with the Corolla in the future.
Source: Link 1
#2: 42-43 million units* - Ford F-Series (1948 - present)
When it comes to best-selling models, it’s impossible not to mention the Ford F-Series line. It is the best-selling vehicle in the US for several consecutive years. In the range, the most popular version of the full-size pick-up truck is the F-150, which is currently in its 14th generation. Other versions include the heavy-duty F-250 through F-450 and the larger commercial Super Duty models.
Ford last reported that as of 2010, 34 million units of the F-Series trucks were sold globally. After computing F-Series sales data from 2011 until 2020, the number should be around 42 to 43 million by 2021 which is why there's an asterisk there on the subheading. With that, we’ll probably hear about it next when Ford reaches the 50 million sales milestone, like the Toyota Corolla.
The first-generation F-Series was built in 1948. It is one of the oldest nameplates still used by Ford today. With Ford looking to electrify its lineup, the current generation model was also the first to be introduced as an EV with the F-150 Lightning. The introduction of an EV F-Series model also ensures that the popular pick-up truck will be around even after the auto industry completes the shift to electric.
#3: 35 million units* - Volkswagen Golf (1974 - present)
If there’s one Volkswagen model that has stood the test of time, it’s the Golf. Introduced in 1974, it has since spawned eight different generations. The automaker even boldly claims no other European car was sold more frequently, and they have reason to brag. As of 2019, VW has sold over 35 million units globally. We expect that number to be higher today following the introduction of the new 8th generation model in late 2019.
The Golf is undoubtedly one of the most popular hatchback models on the market today. While it’s no longer available in the Philippines, it is still a hot-selling model elsewhere in the world. The most popular variants include the Golf GTI and the Golf R, which rivals the like of the Honda Civic Type R.
With Volkswagen moving towards an all-electric future, it’s uncertain whether the Golf will live on as an electric vehicle or will eventually be sold as an I.D. model.
Source: Link 1
#4: 27 million units - Honda Civic (1972 - present)
The Civic is the car that practically put Honda on the map. The compact sedan is synonymous with Honda as the Corolla is with Toyota. Introduced in 1972, it is one of Honda’s best-selling models to date, having sold over 27 million units as of 2021.
Since the model debuted 49 years ago, there have been 11 generations of the Civic. The current 11th-generation model Civic sedan first debuted in North America last year, with the Civic Hatchback following soon after. Later this 2021, the Civic will also be made available in the Philippine market.
Aside from being an everyday compact car, the Civic is also famous for being a hot hatchback with the Type R variant. The first Civic Type R debuted in 1997 based on the sixth-generation EK chassis. The Type R has since been a staple in the Civic lineup, and it has developed a cult following around the world.
Source: Link 1
#5: 22.8 million* - Honda Accord (1976 - present)
Following close behind the Civic is another Honda model – the Accord. It’s the second-longest-running nameplate in the brand’s global lineup following its debut in 1976. Like the smaller Civic, it is also one of the brand’s best-selling models with 22.8 million units sold as of 2019; a number we expect to be today, however, no official data has been released.
While the Accord is popularly known as an upscale sedan, it was previously offered as a coupe and even a wagon. Since its introduction 45 years ago, Honda has introduced ten generations of the model. The current 10th-generation Accord debuted in 2017, featuring the brand’s latest styling cue.
Despite the strong customer preference for crossovers recently, the Accord continues to be one of Honda’s large volume sellers in the mid-size sedan market in over 170 countries.
Source: Link 1
#6: 21.5 million - Volkswagen Beetle (1938 - 2003)
One of the most iconic Volkswagen models is undoubtedly the Beetle. More specifically, the original Type 1 model. It was, at one point, one of the longest-running models of all time, in production from 1938 up until 2003. Interestingly, the original air-cooled Beetle was still in production when Volkswagen introduced the second-generation New Beetle in 1997, which was based on the Golf platform at the time.
Throughout its 65-year production life, Volkswagen built and sold over 21.5 million units of the original Beetle. It’s also the first car to hit 20 million units sold globally. To this day, there’s a good chance you’ll still see one on the road. While Volkswagen did make some changes throughout its production life, the platform and the chassis remain unchanged.
Unfortunately, the Beetle nameplate is no longer around today. In 2019, Volkswagen decided to end production of the funky two-door New Beetle. There’s no mention of whether a new Beetle will be introduced down the line.
#7: 20 million units* - Ford Escort (1968 – 2004)
Aside from the F-150, the Ford Escort also made the list. It’s one of the most popular models Ford when it was still in production. Since its debut in 1968, the model has sold almost 20 million units globally, making it one of Ford’s best-selling models, and even outselling the Model-T.
The Escort would mostly be popular in Europe, with the Mk1 and Mk2 generations being the most iconic models. The RS and Mexico models were used to compete in motorsport events, specifically in rally series. Interestingly, you’d be able to find several examples of these models in the Philippines as well, most of which competed in local rally and racing series.
By 2004, Ford bid farewell to the Escort when production was ceased in Argentina. The model name was revived in 2015 as a China-exclusive model. It was based on the second-generation Focus and continues to be sold as part of a joint venture between Ford and Changan today.
#8: 15 million* - Ford Model T (1908 - 1927)
We’re back to Ford, and this time we’re talking about the great-granddaddy of all of their vehicles – the Model T. Unlike most vehicles at the time, the Model T was the first to be built using a pioneering mass production line. As a result, Ford was able to build and sell the Model T at a low price and produce more units at the same time.
Even though the Model T was only in production from 1908 to 1927, a 19-year production span, Ford produced and sold over 15 million units, most of which were in the United States. It was a feat at the time and even today. Those numbers aren’t easy to reach, especially for a single-generation vehicle. Take the Beetle, for example, it was one of the longest vehicles sold in a single generation. But after 65-years in production, Volkswagen managed only to sell 21 million despite its popularity.
Granted several vehicles have overtaken the Model T in terms of number sold and produced. However, the Model T has to be credited as one of the best-selling models today, even if it hasn’t been in production for over 90 years. What took most several decades for other automakers only took 19 years for the Ford Model T.
Source: Link 1
#9: 12.75 million - VAZ-2105/Lada Riva (1970 - 2012)
It may not be popular outside of Europe, Russia, and South America, but the original AvtoVAZ VAZ-2105 (AKA: Lada Riva/Nova) was one of the best-selling vehicles in the regions. Just how popular was it? Throughout its 42-year production life, AvtoVAZ built and sold over 12.75 million units of the model. You may not see a Lada in North America or Asia, but it's a regular sight for for those living east of the Berlin Wall.
Like the original Volkswagen Beetle, a single generation of the Riva had a very long production run, spanning from 1970 until 2012. AvtoVAZ didn’t change much on the Riva from the late 70s until the early 2010s, either. Despite the lack of major changes and upgrades, it continued to be a hot-selling vehicle in the region.
While the original Riva may not be in production anymore, Lada fans will be glad to know that the Niva compact SUV still is.
Source: Link 1
Before we end, it's important to make clear that the numbers may vary as not all automakers make their complete production figures to the general public on a per-model basis. There are actually two more models we tried to confirm for the list, and that would be the Volkswagen Passat and the Ford Fiesta. The issue though is that sources vary greatly on the numbers so we opted not to include those models. If we did, the Passate and Fiesta will be somewhere in between the Model T and the Escort.
Building cars are much more efficient today than before given automation, computer aided design, and JIT manufacturing. But to have a model that will stand the test of time is a different story altogether. As the automotive world moves toward an electric future, EVs could eventually become the best-selling models of all time. Tesla’s already on its way there.