In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States was the world’s leading car manufacturer. In the 1980s, Japan overtook them. And today is China. In the global struggle for dominance in the automobile industry, Europe seems never to have had a chance. And it is that something is reflected in the list of 110 best-selling cars in the world. Where Europe only manages to place a car in the top 20. In sixteenth position.
The list has been prepared by Felipe Muñoz, an analyst at JATO Dynamics and that usually makes a very eloquent picture of how the world market is and the situation of the brands in terms of sales. And on more than one occasion, the reality is very different from the perception that we can have in our little corner of the world. And this time is one of them.
In the list of best-selling cars worldwide in 2021 we find several surprises. The best-selling model in the world is now the Toyota RAV4, also known in some markets as Wildlander, with 1,132,000 units. It is the first time that an SUV has been the best-selling car in the world.
In the following stalls, the usual suspects, such as the Toyota Corolla sedan (Levin, in some markets) with 1,104,000 units, in second position, and the Honda CR-V (Breeze) in third position (903,000 units). The Nissan Sentra and Toyota Camry arriving in fourth and fifth position, respectively. As for the Ford -F150 sneaks into seventh position (562,000 units) followed by the Toyota Hi-Lux with 549,000 units.
Until, they are the cars of always, but without a doubt the biggest surprise gives us Tesla that sneaks its Model 3 in the world Top 10 (in ninth position) with 508,000 units. Moreover, Muñoz believes that by 2022, the Tesla Model 3 could be in the Top 5 worldwide. Another surprise for Europeans is to see how there is no model from the old continent in the Top 10, dominated by Toyota and Honda.
What about Europe. This photo of the best-selling models does not necessarily reflect the weight of Europe and its manufacturers worldwide. Straining one or more models into the world’s best sellers is not synonymous with being a powerful group or brand. For example, Hondawhich places three cars in the world Top 10, is the seventh manufacturer in the world (4.1 million cars in 2021).
Of course, Toyota remains the world’s leading manufacturer, with 10.5 million cars produced in 2021, and has four models in the world Top 10, however the second world manufacturer is the Volkswagen groupwhose first model in the world ranking is found in sixteenth position, the volkswagen lavida. The Lavida e is a model exclusively reserved for the Chinese market and manufactured in collaboration with SAIC.
And it is the difference between placing one or several models among the best sellers worldwide and flooding the world with their products. This disparity between the ranking by models and the ranking by manufacturers is explained by different strategies.
Asian and European brands have different strategies
Asian brands, for the most part, are adept at global cars. Thus, a Toyota Corolla sedan will be, with minor variations in the range and in the proposed engines, basically the same in Europe, America and Asia. It’s a strategy that American automakers have also re-adopted in the past two decades.
The prestigious European brands also propose global cars, but in the case of the generalists, they have opted for a Greater specialization of the models depending on the markets. In China, Volkswagen sells the Lavida that is not sold on another continent. Similarly, the American Passat has nothing to do with the European.
On the other hand, selling many cars does not mean being the most profitable manufacturer. Thus, Toyota, number one in sales, falls to second place in terms of revenue (253,000 million dollars), while Volkswagen becomes the first world group by revenue with 276,000 million dollars. The group’s prestigious brands, such as Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini or Bugatti, undoubtedly contribute to surpassing Toyota in terms of income.
Mercedes-Benz ($147 billion), which ranks 10th in sales, jumps to fourth place in terms of revenue, ahead behind Stellantis ($167 billion). Also, it’s interesting to see that Ford ($136 billion), General Motors ($127 billion), and BMW ($122 billion) are roughly the same size.
This is how the new strategy of many manufacturers, such as Stellantis or Mercedes-Benzof wanting sell fewer but more expensive cars. And it is that a high volume does not guarantee high income. The Hyundai group, the fourth largest manufacturer in the world, is only the eighth in terms of income, with 96 million dollars.
In the end, the ranking of the best-selling models in the world highlights the weight that the Chinese market has worldwide. And it’s just overwhelming. More than 26.1 million cars were sold in China in 2021. For comparison, in Europe it was 11.75 million units and 14.9 million in the United States.
In any case, the fact that the models of European brands are not in the first positions does not mean that Europe has missed the car train, whether it is electric or not. Of course no one can dispute the weight of China, which produced 26 million cars in 2021, but Europe remains a major player. With 12.1 million cars made in the EU, thus not counting the UK and Turkey, Europe is the world’s second largest car manufacturer.
Thus, this ranking also reflects the presence or not in China of European brands. Most European generalist brands have given up being present in China or have chosen to reduce their presence, except for Volkswagen, which has been present in China since 1984.
most of European generalists have chosen to focus on Europewhere they get higher margins, and South Americato try to strengthen its position as leader and local manufacturers.
Now the great question is whether they will all be able to hold out in the long run with a strategy of high margins and being absent from the world’s largest market.