12 Mar 19

Top 10 best-selling cars: USA versus Europe

Americans like cubic inches and comfort, Europeans prefer refinement and efficiency. Does this cliché still hold true in times of globalisation? We tried to figure out by diving into the 2018 sales top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. The conclusions? Find out at end of the article.

USA top 10 (source:

  1. Ford F-Series: 909k units. Americans love their home brands – and big portions of them. This evergreen pick-up is popular amongst consumers (F150) as well as companies (F250 and F350)
  2. Ram Pick-up truck: 537k units. Nothing much to add, apart from the fact that the sales number here too includes both the “consumer” model (1500) and the heavy-duty models (2500 and 3500)
  3. Chevrolet Silverado: 532k units. The beat goes on. Big comfy V6 and V8-powered gas guzzlers are the top choice of Americans. The Paris Agreement… that’s something for Paris, right?
  4. Toyota RAV4: 427k units. The first relatively green car in America’s top ten is the compact crossover RAV4. The new model is an instant hit, not least thanks to its hybrid powertrain. Yes, a growing number of Americans care for mpg.
  5. Nissan Rogue: 412k units. The 2019 model year of this RAV4 rival comes with Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 driver assistance suite and is great value-for-money. No hybrid powertrains, though, but a relatively efficient petrol mated to a CVT.
  6. Honda CR-V: 379k units. The latest generation of Honda's successful crossover dates from 2017 and holds its own in this popular segment, even though it is outsold by the Rogue and RAV4. It is now available as a hybrid. Yep, looks like we have a trend.
  7. Toyota Camry: 343k units. America’s best-selling saloon ranks seventh. It goes to show that ever more Americans prefer a higher seating position. The current model dates from 2018 and is available – you guessed it – as a hybrid.
  8. Honda Civic: 326k units. Honda is a strong brand in the USA - much stronger than in Europe - and owes much of its reputation of a quality carmaker to the Civic. The 2019 model year features a suite of ADAS – indeed, that seems to be what American non-pick-up buyers want.
  9. Toyota Corolla: 304k units. Remarkably, the previous Corolla model was able to maintain its spot in the top 10 in spite of the new model being around the corner. The latter is now available with a frugal hybrid powertrain – yes, it is.
  10. Chevrolet Equinox: 299k units. The latest generation of this domestic Nissan Rogue challenger can be ordered with a thrifty 1.6 diesel – which makes it rather exceptional. The other option is a 1.5 Turbo – no hybrids here, because that’s no longer the direction GM wants to take.

Europe top 10 (source: Focus2move)

  1. VW Golf: 503k units. The Golf has been around for 45 years and owes much of its success to its classlessness, robustness, reliability and fuel efficiency. In the seventies it was the right car at the right place at the right moment, today it ticks more boxes than any other car on the market.  
  2. Renault Clio: 366k units. Even though the model will be replaced by the end of the year, the Clio still sells well. It is a popular choice amongst both young and older drivers, who appreciate its fluid design, handy touch screen and frugal engines.
  3. VW Polo: 313k units. The current-generation is a pocket-sized Golf. It probably features the best build quality in this category and comes with a wide choice of engines, ranging from small petrol and medium-sized diesel units to state-of-the-art CNG models.
  4. Ford Fiesta: 274k units. Ford revamped its Fiesta two years ago and is considered by many as the best proposition in its segment, but still the Blue Oval was unable to outperform its rivals last year. Is the model positioned too high up the ladder or is margin more important than volume?
  5. VW Tiguan: 258k units. German robustness in a sleek crossover package that comes in a multitude of flavours: the second-generation Tiguan was bound to become a hit. The arrival of the Allspace model gave it a serious boost in 2018.
  6. Nissan Qashqai: 253k units. Yet another steady-seller in the European top 10. Nissan has continuously been revamping its Qashqai to maintain the sales momentum. Much of its success is owed to the availability of a tax-friendly petrol engine. No hybrids, though.  
  7. Skoda Octavia: 241k units. Most Octavia sales go to businesses, making it the best-selling fleet model on many European markets. Its VW quality in a practical, down-to-earth business attire make it the the fleet manager’s typical choice.
  8. Peugeot 208: 235k units. PSA’s city car cannot hold off its younger rivals much longer, but help is on its way. In the meantime, the current 208 offers great value for money and still tickles the fancy of those in search of driving fun.
  9. Dacia Sandero: 225k units. Dacia is nowhere to be spotted in European car policies, but private buyers are crazy about the no-nonsense you-get-what-you-see approach of Renault’s budget subsidiary.  
  10. Opel/Vauxhall Corsa: 223k units. The underpinnings of the current generation Corsa go back to 2006, something that the city car is finding increasingly difficult to hide. Its successor will bow at the IAA in Frankfurt later this year and share much of its DNA with the new Peugeot 208.


The American market is bipolar. On the one hand, the top three of the best-selling cars is 100% domestic, 100% pick-up truck and 100% non-eco conscious. On the other hand, there is a growing audience for more fuel-efficient vehicles of more moderate dimensions, which can mostly be found in showrooms of Japanese brands. In between, there are the modest crossovers, both homegrown and imported. Petrol is king, hybrid is on the rise, diesel is marginal.

The European market is more fragmented than the American one. City cars (Renault Clio, VW Polo, Ford Fiesta, Peugeot 208, Opel/Vauxhall Corsa) keep dominating, but the compact class VW Golf is still Europe’s favourite choice. The biggest car in the top 10 is the VW Tiguan – it goes to show that size is perceived differently on both sides of the Atlantic. So are the Asian brands: there is only one non-domestic model in the top 10, i.e. the Nissan Qashqai.

So, do the USA and Europe have nothing in common as it comes to car preference? Yes, they do. Crossovers are on the rise on both continents - something the top 10s do not show but proof of which is abundantly present - and so are hybrid powertrains. The segments, brands and models are not quite the same, though.


Authored by: Dieter Quartier