One thing that you can always count on in life is change. The subject in question doesn’t matter; the fact is, things change—music, fashion, food, political opinion, and even cars. If you could look back 20 years ago, you wouldn’t be surprised to see that today’s two most popular models, the Ford F-Series and Chevy Silverado pickups, were then the top sellers. However, the rest of the list would look alien by today’s standards. The most popular in car sales then included four sedans—the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Taurus, and Honda Civic—as well as one minivan, the Dodge Caravan. Sedans are not as popular today as they once were, and the Taurus and Caravan have both been discontinued.
Today’s most popular models break down into two dominant categories: pickups and SUVs. Americans seem to want what larger vehicles have to offer. Sure, there are still some popular sedans, but they don’t hold the dominant position we used to see just two decades ago. In addition, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are trending upward as more people embrace the revolution started in part by the Toyota Prius and Tesla.
A Change at the Top
General Motors and Ford have both made a major commitment to BEVs, adding new BEV models while also offering some of their top-sellers with hybrid engine options. In addition, both are making major investments in battery production and development with GM Ultium and Ford Blue Oval.
This commitment has helped drive sales, with GM now topping the list of brand sales for 2023, surpassing Toyota. Meanwhile, Ford has moved into third place ahead of Honda. The goal of both GM and Ford is to capture economies of scale and scope with BEVs that other smaller automotive companies cannot replicate. This has also influenced the top ten models in sales.
Trucks Take Center Stage Again
Some things never change—at least, not yet. Once again, the Ford F-Series remains the top-selling model in the United States, followed by the Chevy Silverado. Ford sold over 650,000 F-Series trucks in 2022, and this looks to continue with the 2023 model year, seeing the introduction of the F-150 Raptor and the full-size BEV F-150 Lightning truck.
GM could complain that their trucks should have pride of place. After all, the Chevy Silverado sold over 510,000 units while the GMC Sierra had over 240,000 in sales—combining for over 750,000 trucks sold, easily eclipsing the numbers produced by Ford. Still, since the sales competition is done by model and make, GM will have to be satisfied with finishing second with the Chevy Silverado and in sixth place with the GMC Sierra.
America’s love affair with the pickup truck is not limited to Ford and Chevy. Other truck manufacturers did well, with Ram trucks finishing in third place with an impressive 468,000 trucks sold. Among midsize pickup trucks, the Toyota Tacoma ranked eighth in overall sales, making it the most popular model in this growing category. If you are keeping score at home, five trucks are in the top ten in sales. Despite what the Grateful Dead sang, we all may not be “Truckin’ Up to Buffalo,” but we are certainly heading somewhere in our pickups.
SUVs Continue to Be Popular, Especially With Families
If you look back at the top ten list of 2002, you’ll see only two SUVs—the Ford Explorer at five and the Chevy Trailblazer at nine. Things have certainly changed in that regard. Of the 25 most popular vehicles in America, 13 are SUVs. This fact can be attributed to SUVs being the most diverse type of vehicle, with so many different sizes and configurations.
The single most popular SUV is the Toyota RAV4, which finished fourth in vehicle sales. This compact SUV is roomy enough for a family, economical enough for a commuter, and safe enough for a young driver. In fact, the most popular category of SUVs is the compact or crossover model. The Toyota RAV4 is joined by other models in this class, like the Honda CR-V, Chevy Equinox, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson, Subaru Crosstrek, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Outback, and Ford Escape. Honda is coming out with a new generation of the CR-V for 2023, so we could see this model move up in the rankings if drivers take to it like they did the older models.
There are still many drivers who love larger SUVs. These midsize and full-size models provide exceptional passenger interiors with advanced comfort and convenience features, as well as roomy cargo compartments. The best-selling model in this category is the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which combines the ruggedness of a four-wheel drive Jeep with the luxury features that suburban motorists desire. The Grand Cherokee actually finished tenth, due in large part to the popularity of the three-row L edition.
Joining the Grand Cherokee in the top 25 are the Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer. An interesting addition to the list of best-sellers is the Jeep Wrangler. This iconic model has become synonymous with off-roading. It features a standard 4X4 drivetrain, removable roof and door panels, and more specialized features for the trail than any other model.
Some Sedans Are Still Quite Popular
Despite popular trends, some drivers continue to prefer sedans. These traditional models provide solid fuel economy, handle well, and feature sporty looks. In many ways, the 2002 top ten list signaled which sedans would survive. Three of the four listed then also made the top 25 best-selling list for 2022. In fact, the midsize Toyota Camry sedan retained a place in the top ten, finishing fifth with over 295,000 vehicles sold—just a slight drop off of its third-place finish in 2002.
Joining the Camry in the top 25 is the Toyota Corolla, the most popular compact sedan in America. It missed making the top ten, finishing in a respectable twelfth place. The Corolla also comes in a hatchback model that has become popular among younger drivers. The Honda Civic also features several different model configurations and just barely made it into the top 25. Joining these are a pair of popular midsize sedans, the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, both of which are long-running models in their respective brands’ lineups.
The Future of BEVs Is Bright
If sales are any indication, American drivers have started a love affair with BEVs. The Tesla Model Y became the first BEV to make the top ten, selling an impressive 231,400 units for 2022, making it the ninth best-selling vehicle in America. Joining the Model Y in the top 25 is the Tesla Model 3 at number 15, with over 198,000 vehicles sold. This should make those fighting for a greener, cleaner future very happy to hear.
Tesla has shown the viability of BEVs, which is something that other automakers have made a note of, as it seems like practically every brand is adding a BEV to its lineup and even coming out with hybrid and BEV versions of many popular models. This should help smooth the transition from conventional gas engines to electric motors. It is probably also why GM and Ford have bet big on the future of BEVs and invested significantly in the production of lithium-ion battery packs for their vehicles.
To Get a Sense of the Future, Look to the Past
One of the keys to seeing where the future of an industry is headed is to look at the past. By looking at leading indicators and lagging statistics, you can get a clear picture of the state of a business. This is especially so in the automotive world. While the top ten in 2002 featured one minivan and four sedans, pickup trucks maintained the top spots, and SUV sales were trending in the right direction. In 2022, we still saw trucks dominating the top spots, joined by SUVs. However, sales of BEVs are now trending upward, indicating the future of vehicles will most likely be electric—hence why Ford, Chevy, and Ram have each come out with electric trucks. They have seen the future and noted the acceptance of BEVs by American drivers. As a result, we may see some major changes within the top 25 list over the coming decade.