The best-selling cars in the world

Graham Hope

12 Jan 2022

Here’s what people were buying across the globe in 2021

Which are the most popular cars in the world? The easiest way to answer that is by studying the year-end sales charts country by country, which give a fascinating insight into buyers’ preferences across the globe. And the data for 2021 makes for particularly interesting reading, given that it was another year turned upside down by the after-effects of Covid, with some major manufacturers seriously affected by supply issues, causing significant showroom shortages. That meant some big names struggled – while others capitalised. Here we look at the cars buyers bought in 2021 in some of the key markets across the world.




It would be a major surprise if anything other than the Volkswagen Golf finished the year as the top-selling car in Germany – the compact family hatch, an institution in its homeland, has been the number one choice for car buyers for an astonishing 41 years in a row. However, it wasn’t a vintage year for the Golf, with sales down by a third at 91,261, in part due to supply issues. Four other VWs – the T-Roc (2), Tiguan (3), up! (5) and Passat (6) also proved popular – with only the Opel Corsa breaking the Wolfsburg brand’s monopoly at the top end of the sales chart in fourth. The MINI, in seventh, was the most successful motor not built in Germany, while the best sellers for BMW, Mercedes and Audi were the 3 Series (8), GLC (18) and A3 (21) respectively.




Another country where buyers seem very much to be creatures of habit is Italy, where the Fiat Panda claimed the top-seller spot again – the tenth year in a row it has been number one. No less than 112,298 found homes in 2021, well clear of the brand’s 500, with 44,819 sales, in second. The availability of electrified versions accounted for its major jump in registrations. Despite an increase in sales, the Lancia Ypsilon slipped to third, followed by the Jeep Renegade in fourth and the Toyota Yaris in fifth. With another Fiat finishing in sixth place, it was no surprise that the Turin company was again Italy’s most popular car maker, around 93,000 sales ahead of Volkswagen in second.


United Kingdom


The turbulence of 2021 provided something of a shock in Britain, where the long reign of the Ford Fiesta as our number one car came to an end, replaced in the top spot by the Vauxhall Corsa, with 40,914 registrations. The significance of this cannot be overstated – 2021 was the first time since 1971 that a Ford had not finished the year as best seller, with the Fiesta, beset by supply problems, deposed from the Top 10 entirely in the year-end chart. The rise in prominence of electric cars was reflected by the Tesla Model 3 ending the year in second place, with the MINI third and Mercedes’ A-Class, fifth in 2020, rising one place to fourth. Ford was also usurped as the biggest selling maker by Volkswagen, which had the fifth and sixth most popular models, the Polo and Golf.


United States


Our American cousins have very different tastes when it comes to vehicles, with trucks traditionally dominating the sales charts. And it was no different in 2021. Way out in front as the nation’s most popular choice was the Ford F-Series, although its final tally of 726,004 sales was a dip of around eight percent on 2020. However, for context, this was still 156,616 ahead of the second-placed vehicle, the Ram Pickup, which actually increased sales by one percent – enough to overtake the Chevrolet Silverado, which dropped to third. The Toyota RAV 4 was the most popular non pick-up model, in fourth, while other recognisable names in the top 10 were the Honda CR-V (5), Jeep Grand Cherokee (8) and Honda Civic (10). Perhaps the biggest news, though, was General Motors being unseated as the biggest selling manufacturer by Toyota, after 90 years as number one.




Toyota was also the maker to beat in its home market of Japan, with no less than eight of the top 10 best sellers from the brand. Leading the way was the Yaris with 212,297 registrations, followed by the Roomy (2), Corolla (3), Alphard (4), Rise (6), Harrier (7), Aqua (8) and Voxy (9). The interlopers in the top 10 were the Nissan Note in fifth and the Honda Freed in tenth, with Suzuki the only other manufacturer represented in the top 20. Overall, a whopping 1,424,380 Toyotas were sold in Japan during the past 12 months – well ahead of second-placed Suzuki (608,379). And the most popular car from a non-Japanese brand? That was the MINI.




You’d expect the French to be patriotic and that’s certainly the case when it comes to cars, with the year-end chart dominated by homegrown models. Despite a drop in registrations of around five per cent, the Peugeot 208 retained its position as the country’s top model, accumulating 88,013 sales, with the Renault Clio in second, a mere 2,766 behind. Another Peugeot, the 2008, finished third while the Sandero, from Renault-owned Dacia, was fourth and the Citroen C3 fifth. Of arguably more interest, though, was the fact that Peugeot was France’s top-selling manufacturer, the first time it has earned this accolade in around 90 years. Although its overall sales were in decline (by five percent), it overtook Renault, whose volume dropped even more sharply by 14.5 percent.


Rest of the world


Elsewhere across the globe, there were some predictable ‘home wins’ as buyers backed cars manufactured in their own country. In Spain, SEAT was dominant with the Arona (below) claiming the number one position and the Leon finishing seventh. It was Skoda all the way in the Czech Republic, with six out of the top seven best sellers made by the brand, although the perennial best seller, the Octavia, was overtaken by the Fabia. Volvo ruled the roost in Sweden, with the S/V60 out in front, followed by the XC40 and XC60, while in South Korea the Hyundai Grandeur took the honours. There are no domestic makers in Australia, though, so this trend was well and truly bucked Down Under, where the Toyota Hilux pick-up was the top seller for the sixth year in a row, edging out the Ford Ranger.


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Graham Hope

12 Jan 2022