2020 was a year like no other for new car sales around the world.
While most car models saw a slide in sales, there were some bright spots and winners. At the very top of the chart, it is about maintaining market share as well as outright sales, which has led to some close-fought challenges for top 20 rankings.
The list also includes a couple of names that will be strange to Western readers, as well as the first battery electric vehicle to make it into the top 20. We’ve ranked the top 20 best-selling cars in the world in ascending order, starting at number 20 and working our way to the global best-seller:
Data comes from manufacturers, cross-referenced with data supplier Focus2move
20: Mazda CX-5 – 369,750 cars sold
Mazda’s overall sales were down to just under 1.25 million in 2020, a drop of 17% on 2019’s figures. Yet it also saw the firm’s best-selling model, the CX-5, enter the top 20 best-sellers list thanks to an insatiable demand from buyers for crossover cars despite the pandemic.
The US was the biggest marker for the CX-5 and Mazda actually grew its sales there despite rivals seeing a drop-off in numbers. It’s this that has helped the CX-5 into the top 20 even though its sales of 369,750 would have struggled to put it inside the top 25 the previous year.
19: Volkswagen Polo – 415,288
The Volkswagen Polo was riding high in 2019 as the most popular small car and sitting in tenth spot overall. Twelve months down the line, the Polo has slipped to 18th place and shed more than 300,000 sales. Despite this, the Polo is one of only two superminis to make it into the top 20 of global best-sellers along with the Toyota Yaris.
18: Volkswagen Lavida – 419,816
It’s not a name many will recognise in Europe or North America, but the Lavida is an important car for Volkswagen. Sold in China and similar to the Passat as a large saloon model, it is a key rival to the Nissan Sylphy that was China’s best-selling car in 2020.
The VW trailed the Nissan’s sales by around 120,000 units in 2020, but the Lavida has a strong following in China. The latest generation’s 78mm longer wheelbase makes it even more appealing to Chinese buyers, who value rear seat space more than customers in other markets.
17: Nissan Qashqai/Rogue Sport – 432,791
It was a tough year for Nissan as it endured a sales contraction of a fifth overall compared to 2019. That saw total production fall to four million vehicles, with production in Mexico and China exceeding that of Nissan’s Japanese and US factories.
Accounting for around one in every 10 cars built by Nissan, the Qashqai is a mainstay of its sales. It means the company has two cars in the top 20 and also underlines the ongoing popularity of the firm’s crossover models with buyers around the world. Sales in the US of the Rogue Sport, as the Qashqai is called there, also helped bolster Nissan’s numbers.
16: Tesla Model 3 – 439,760
Tesla has undergone a year like no other and watched sales of its Model 3 soar when other car makers have been battling the effects of the pandemic. It has topped the charts in several countries, such as Norway and Austria where the switch to electric cars is further ahead than in most others.
It’s the only battery electric car in to the top 20 in 2020, so the Tesla’s next challenge is to remain in this group.
15: Honda Accord – 451,610
Consistent is a word ideally suited to the Honda Accord and it’s just as applicable with the car’s sales performance in 2020. It remains in 15th place, right where it was in 2019, even though sales have fallen away by 144,000 units in 2020. That’s in line with many other models and makes, so the Accord retains its market share.
14: Toyota Hilux – 457,876
The Toyota Hilux may not be on the same sort of numbers as the big three from the US domestic makers, but it’s still an impressive showing for this pick-up to be comfortably in the top 20 best-sellers. It helps that Toyota’s evergreen pick-up had a mild update and remains the favourite car in many countries where rugged, reliable transport trumps fashion and fads.
The Hilux remains the first choice for Australian pick-up, or ‘bakkie’, drivers, and in other countries such as Argentina. However, steady sales in many countries keep the Hilux ahead of most rivals.
13: Toyota Yaris – 458,578
With a fall in sales of 95,000 units for the Toyota Yaris from 2019’s 553,950 cars to 2020’s 458,578, it could be viewed as a bad year for the Japanese supermini. However, Toyota has beaten its arch-rival, the Volkswagen Polo, to become the most popular supermini globally.
The Yaris has managed this in a tumultuous year when sales of most cars fell by significant margins, helped along by a new fourth-generation model going on sale. The Yaris made a large contribution to Toyota’s overall global sales of 9.2 million vehicles in 2020.
12: Hyundai Tuscon – 462,110
The Hyundai Tuscon is the biggest riser in 2020’s global sales charts, even though its sales declined for another year. Following 2019’s drop in sales from the previous year, the Tuscon’s numbers fell by 65,000 units to 462,238 in 2020. What has helped the Hyundai is many other cars were worse hit by the pandemic, and crossovers fared relatively well overall.
Tuscon sales were also bolstered by South Korea’s fast response to the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing buyers to continue less interruption in the car’s domestic market.
11: Volkswagen Golf – 492,262
Despite sales falling in 2020 to 492,262 from 641,322 in 2019, the Volkswagen Golf moves up two places in the overall global sales ranking. Up from 13th place last year, the Golf does so thanks to strong European sales compared to the global overall popularity of its Toyota Corolla rival that sells even more.
As many company fleets held off replacing cars in 2020, the Golf was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic and sales dropped by 25% year-on-year.
10: Toyota Camry – 592,648
Toyota has three models in the top 10 best-sellers worldwide, and five cars in the top 20. Saloons may be a declining segment but Toyota’s Camry isn’t giving up without a fight, helped along by the model’s cast iron reputation in the US for reliability.
Like many other cars, the Camry witnessed a drop in sales in 2020 due to the pandemic, falling back from 2019’s figure by almost 120,000 units. However, some of that is also due to the bounce in 2019 created by the launch of an all-new model of Camry, so 2020’s number is possibly more representative for future sales.
9: Volkswagen Tiguan 607,121
The Volkswagen Tiguan did more than any other VW-badged model to see the German firm become the world’s largest car maker in 2020. It produced a total of 10.8 million cars against Toyota’s 10.5 million, VW benefiting from its line-up of appealing crossovers.
Even so, the Tiguan has slipped down two places to ninth from 2019’s seventh. Sales are also down, plummeting from 770,000 in the previous year to 607,121 in 2020.
8: RAM Pickup – 631,445
There is very little between the Ram and its most direct competitor, the Chevrolet Silverado. With only 12,000 sales separating them in 2020, it shows how strong and keenly contested the large pick-up sector is in the US and Canada where these vehicles are most sought-after.
The RAM’s sales were helped by the launch of the Rebel TRX model with a 702bhp 6.2-litre supercharged V8 engine that makes it the most powerful production pick-up ever made.
7: Chevrolet Silverado – 643,848
Second only to the mighty Ford F Series in sales of full-size pick-ups, the Chevrolet Silverado actually enjoyed a very slight uptick in sales in 2020 compared to 2019. The previous year, we noted sales of 642,126, while 2020 saw 643,445 Silverados find willing homes.
Any sort of sales increase in 2020 was welcome and it has helped boost the Chevrolet up from 12th place in 2019’s rankings to seventh this year, putting all three of the key US pick-ups in the top 10 global best-sellers. Sales came roaring back in the second half of 2020 as the US economy recovered from the Covid shock, especially the housing and construction markets, to which pickup sales are closely correlated.
6: Nissan Sylphy – 674,663
The Nissan Sylphy can attribute its top 10 placing almost entirely to sales in China. It was the top selling car in China in 2020, notching up 542,725 sales, though still leaving only a handful for other markets. Such dominance in the Chinese market puts the Sylphy well ahead of rivals like the Volkswagen Lavida and Honda Civic.
Also known as the Sentra in some markets, the Sylphy’s sales in 2020 were helped by the launch of a new model.
5: Honda Civic – 697,945
It may trail the Toyota Corolla by some 400,000 sales globally, but the Honda Civic retains its fifth place in worldwide sales. Of more concern to Honda than coming second to the all-conquering Corolla will be the drop in Civic sales of 120,000 on 2019’s total.
The pandemic accounts for much of the sales drop of the Civic, but the company will be keen to get the 11th generation Civic launched and into showrooms later in 2021.
4: Honda CR-V – 736,980
Honda’s CR-V laid claim to being the best-selling SUV for many years, so it will be a bit of a blow for this car to give way to its key rival, the Toyota RAV4. Like its Civic sister, the CR-V saw sales falter in 2020, falling 13% on 2019’s total.
However, there is some comfort for Honda in the CR-V remaining a long way ahead of its other prime crossover contender, the Volkswagen Tiguan that languishes in eighth spot in this sales chart.
3: Ford F Series – 936,084
For almost any other car, a top three podium finish would be a huge success. However, the Ford F Series was the only other car to sell more than a million units in 2019, but it slipped below that to 936,084 in 2020. Not only that, the Ford was demoted from second place the previous year to third in 2020 by the Toyota RAV4.
While demand for large pick-ups remained amazingly resilient in the US in 2020, a facelifted F Series was delayed coming to showrooms because of the pandemic and only arrived in dealerships at the end of the year. That resulted in a loss of around 100,000 sales for Ford and its consequently poorer showing in 2020. In 2021, Ford like many companies faces production constraints due to a shortage in microchips, today a key component of cars.
2: Toyota RAV4 – 995,762
Number two spot goes to another perennial favourite from Toyota, the RAV4. It unseats the Ford F Series from this position in 2019, showing the appetite of buyers for crossover vehicles continues unabated.
Moreover, the RAV4 did it by increasing sales when all around it others were slipping backwards. In the scale of Toyota’s huge sales figures, the RAV4’s increase of 34,000 globally might not sound much, but in a year like no other the RAV4’s performance was one of the year’s highlights.
1: Toyota Corolla – 1,134,262
After growing its sales in 2019, the Toyota Corolla saw a slide of around 250,000 sales in 2020. That is more than the 11% overall decline in sales experienced by Toyota, yet the Corolla remains the world’sbest-selling car and the only one top a million sales in 2020.
The Corolla achieved its number one status without topping the sales charts of any of the biggest markets. However, the Corolla is offered in more countries than most rivals and is a consistently strong seller, which accounts for its impressive tally.