The car industry has remained an important sector of the US economy for many decades. Since 1978, nearly 350 million cars have been sold in America alone. With growth and changes in technology, vehicle designs have evolved, and so has the consumers’ taste. Therefore, the best-selling car changes from year to year as new models and options are released.
The infographic and article below will dive into the best selling car by year in the US since 1978 and discuss important trends in the auto industry.
The Oldsmobile Cutlass, a brand made in America by General Motors, was the best seller in the 1970s. In 1975, Oldsmobile manufactured a Cutlass with a more fuel-efficient engine than ever before. In an economy where consumers preferred cars to trucks and SUVs, this Cutlass outsold the famous Delta 88 and overtook the Chevrolet Chevelle and Ford Torino.
In 1976, Oldsmobile updated the design of the Cutlass by adding a waterfall-style split grille and a more polished coupe contour. This car remained the best choice for many until the early 1980s when the Ford Escort took the lead.
When you think of the best selling vehicle, the idea of speed and design probably comes to mind. However, the average car buyer is not typically concerned with speed or even the visual appeal of a car most of the time. Instead, car-buying stats reveal that car buyers care most about how practical and affordable the car is.
The following were the most popular cars in the US throughout the 1980s.
The Oldsmobile Cutlass, a fan favorite in the late 1970s, maintained the title of best-selling car in 1980. Even years after it was first manufactured, it was one of the most frequently seen cars on the road.
Consumers loved the Cutlass because of its small size, rear-wheel drive, and the capable V8 or V9 engine. The power made it among the sportiest sedans on the market.
The Cutlass continued to dominate the market in 1981 under the name Cutlass Supreme. Oldsmobile did not change the engine or power rating on the new model but made a few changes to the design. They gave it a new aerodynamic look with new headlamps and a new grille.
Despite the high car sales record for four years, there was a dip in the sale of the Cutlass by the end of 1981, and Oldsmobile discontinued many models.
The sales decline for the Cutlass sales paved the way for the Ford Escort, which was equipped with a smaller engine that increased fuel efficiency. This attracted many buyers who were struggling with the effects of the fuel crisis that began back in 1969.
Additionally, the Escort came in various body types: a five-door hatchback, wagon, and SS/GT models, meaning that there was something for everyone.
The Cutlass took back its crown in 1983. Oldsmobile invested a lot in marketing, intending to present Cutlass as a brand and not just a car. The Cutlass Supreme with the rear-wheel-drive G-body and lasting quality continued to take the lead.
The Chevrolet Cavalier, still made in America, was introduced in the market in 1981 in response to small imported cars like the Toyota Camry and the Toyota Corolla. It offered manual and automatic transmissions, but buyers were drawn to the Cavalier because it had a powerful V6 engine, a throttle body fuel injection, small body size, and different body styles.
The new model of the Cavalier continued to take the sales crown in 1985. However, there was no major difference between the two, except for quad headlights in the new model.
The car market took a complete turn in 1986, with the Chevrolet Celebrity taking the lead in US sales numbers. The Celebrity was a short-lived car because it was on the market from 1982 to 1990. It was so popular because of its spacious interior, generous standard features, and a powerful fuel-injected V6 that offered a fuel-sipping diesel engine.
The Ford Escort made a loud return on the market and immediately took the top sales crown. The new Ford Escort attracted buyers with its new headlights, less chrome, a 1.9 L engine with revised intake manifolds, cylinder heads and headers, and hatchback and wagon body styles.
For the 1988 Escort model, Ford concentrated on minor upgrades that improved the overall visual experience. This included flattened out body lines, a sleeker silhouette body, metal bumpers and larger windows.
It has taken longer than expected for Honda to appear on the top sale list, and it’s not the Honda Civic that put the company on the map. The 1989 Accord model was larger and more comfortable than previous models. Honda also upgraded the automatic transmission to reduce vibrations and noise.
What’s more, it came with features like a standard hydraulic clutch, air conditioning, power windows, a four-speaker system, a sunroof, and alloy wheels, depending on trim level.
In the early 90s, American-made cars still topped the sales list. However, by the late 1990s, Japanese cars started to take over the US market because they were more reliable and affordable. Below are the most popular cars in the 90s:
Many car buyers were not keen on the Accord’s design, but the Honda Accord still made the most sales in 1990. Honda replaced the pop-up headlights with fixed ones, which gave it an airy appearance.
The Ford Taurus arrived on the market when there were many competitors, but it still managed to take the crown for four years straight. The 1996 model was better than the rest because it was highly aerodynamic with front and rear fascia treatments.
The Toyota Camry quickly became one of the most important cars in American History in the late 90s. It was very reliable with a quiet and comfortable interior. The new model in 1998 came with an improved design in addition to better safety measures. It was also bigger and more powerful than previous iterations.
The Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car since 2000, except in 2001, when the Honda Accord took the lead. Americans could not find a better car with a seating capacity for five, a V6 engine with a manual gearbox, and excellent safety measures.
In 2002, the Toyota Camry began its long stretch at the #1 spot for best selling cars in America.
The Toyota Camry is America’s best-selling overall vehicle. In the last 20 years, the Camry has maintained its position as the best-selling car. The journey of success began in 1997 and continued through 2021, only losing out to another car — the Honda Accord — in 2001.
Following the Toyota Camry is a surprising list of vehicles that have sold the most units, including the Volkswagen Beetle, the “Lada” Classic, and the Ford Model T.
Most Americans love cars, but since 2000, a more significant percentage of the population has been warming up to light trucks and SUVs. The top five best-selling trucks and SUVs since 2000 include:
The automotive market in America has endured an interesting history. Just looking at the best selling car by year since the late 1970s, you can get an idea of what Americans hold most important when it comes to their cars.