Ryan OlbryshCar and Driver
If you’ve graduated high school in the past 42 years, congratulations. Even if it didn’t happen until you were 20 years old, it still counts. But do you remember what the best-selling car was that year? Don’t worry, your answer won’t be scored. We’ve taken sales data from each year starting from 1978 until now, to show which car sold the most each year. It’s an interesting comparison of car variety from the late 1970s, where car sales peaked in 1998 when the Toyota Camry began to consistently dominate sales. Recently we’ve seen the same car achieve best-seller repeatedly for the past 19 years, although overall sales of cars continue to decline. This list does not include 2020 sales of trucks or SUVs; the Ford F-150 has been the best-selling overall vehicle and truck in the United States for quite some time.
1978: Oldsmobile Cutlass – 520,279 units sold
Oldsmobile downsizes the Cutlass for 1978, and would you be able to guess what happens to sales? Nothing! Despite the smaller size, sales are undiminished. More than half a million Cutlasses flood American driveways this year—despite the four-door sedan’s ungainly fastback styling.
1979: Oldsmobile Cutlass – 518,160 units sold
The mid-size car from GM’s middle-tier division, the Oldsmobile Cutlass, remains the best-selling car in American for the second year in a row. It is a mainstay of the American middle class in the late ’70s.
1980: Oldsmobile Cutlass – 469,573 units sold
To the auto industry, as the 1980s dawn, they look much like the late 1970s, with the Oldsmobile Cutlass again being the best-selling car in the land. It is the third year in which the Cutlass takes the top spot, although its sales volumes are lower.
1981: Oldsmobile Cutlass – 454,188 units sold
In 1981, the streets are fairly littered with Oldsmobile Cutlasses, and for good reason: The Oldsmobiles notched their fourth year as America’s best-selling automobile.
1982: Ford Escort – 337,667 units sold
The Ford Escort, which had replaced the ancient Pinto as Ford’s small-car offering in 1981, emerges as the best-selling car in America in the recession year of 1982. So long, Oldsmobile Cutlass.
1983: Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme – 331,179 units sold
Wait, the Cutlass isn’t out of the sales hunt yet! In 1983, the Cutlass Supreme again finds itself in a comfortably familiar spot as the best-selling car in the United States, wresting its throne back from the Ford Escort. (It retakes the sales crown even without counting the recently introduced front-wheel-drive Cutlass Ciera.) But it also is the last time the Cutlass—or any Oldsmobile—occupies the top spot. This also is the year we happen to test the first Toyota Camry, a sedan that, many years later (and a few slides beyond this one in this list), would ascend to the Olds’ sales throne. Coincidence?
1984: Chevrolet Cavalier – 383,752 units sold
For the second time in this still-young decade, a small car is the nation’s best-seller. But instead of the Ford Escort (as in 1982), the Chevrolet Cavalier, that takes the top spot.
1985: Chevrolet Cavalier – 422,927 units sold
Chevrolet’s Cavalier is number one in sales for the second year in a row in 1985. Helping put the Cavalier in the top spot is the fact that it was sold in five body styles: coupe, sedan, hatchback, wagon, and convertible.
1986: Chevrolet Celebrity – 408,946 units sold
The Chevrolet Celebrity—the front-drive mid-size entry that made its debut as an ’82 model—emerges as the best-selling car in the United States for 1986, supplanting its smaller sibling, the Cavalier, to take the crown.
1987: Ford Escort – 392,360 units sold
In 1987, the Ford Escort is the best-selling car for the second time, five years after it first achieves that milestone. The Ford division is ascendant, as Escort shares the sales podium with the jellybean-shaped Ford Taurus, which was in second place that year (and made our 10Best Cars list).
1988: Ford Escort – 381,330 units sold
The Ford Escort is the best-selling car in 1988, the second year in a row—and the second year in which it beats out the Ford Taurus for the top spot. The Escort can be had for as little as $6632 in base-model Pony trim.
1989: Honda Accord – 362,707 units sold
In the final year of its third generation, the Honda Accord becomes the best-selling passenger car in the United States. Unlike its predecessors, the third-gen Accord has the benefit of three body styles: sedan, hatchback, and coupe (pictured here); like its predecessors, it easily wins a spot on our annual 10Best Cars list for 1989.
1990: Honda Accord – 417,179 units sold
The Honda Accord grows to mid-size stature with the arrival of its fourth generation for 1990 and enjoys a sales surge, surpassing 400,000 units and opening up a better than 100,000-unit lead over the second-place Ford Taurus. Again, it’s named to our 10Best Cars list.
1991: Honda Accord – 399,297 units sold
Sales of the Honda Accord dip slightly in 1991, but the model remains the best-selling passenger car in the United States. It is again comfortably ahead of the runner-up Ford Taurus, which it leads by 100,000 units, and again it is named to our 10Best Cars list.
1992: Ford Taurus – 409,751 units sold
The Ford Taurus topples the Honda Accord as the best-selling passenger car in 1992, a much ballyhooed achievement. Ford heavily trumpets its win, ignoring critics who say that the Taurus’s total was bolstered by fleet sales. And wouldn’t you know it, the same year the Taurus unseats the Accord in sales, it also ascends to our 10Best Cars ranks, while the Honda does not.
1993: Ford Taurus – 360,448 units sold
The Ford Taurus repeats its win in 1993, staying ahead of the Honda Accord to maintain the top spot among passenger cars, even as sales of both models sink by double digits.
1994: Ford Taurus – 397,037 units sold
The Ford Taurus is the best-selling passenger car again for 1994, with the Honda Accord again in second place, although the then new Accord makes its way back onto our 10Best Cars list.
1995: Ford Taurus – 366,266 units sold
The Ford Taurus continues its run as the best-selling passenger car for the fourth year in a row, even though sales of the aging model drop by nearly 8 percent compared to the year before.
1996: Ford Taurus – 401,049 units sold
A redesigned Ford Taurus arrives for 1996, and although its radically ovoid styling is roundly criticized, the excitement around the new Ford is enough to keep the nameplate in first place among passenger cars, despite a surging Honda Accord.
1997: Toyota Camry – 397,156 units sold
In 1997, the Toyota Camry beats out both the Ford Taurus (which drops to second place) and the Honda Accord to become America’s best-selling passenger car for the first time. Its V-6–powered version also makes our 10Best Cars list.
1998: Toyota Camry – 429,575 units sold
The Toyota Camry enjoys its second year as the best-selling passenger car. For car sales, 1998 looks a lot like 1997, with the second- and third-place finishers—the Honda Accord and the Ford Taurus—also unchanged.
1999: Toyota Camry – 448,162 units sold
Trucks grab more than half of the new-vehicle market for 1999, but among passenger cars, the Toyota Camry continues to reign supreme. The Camry enjoys a substantial lead over the second-place Honda Accord and the third-place Ford Taurus. This is also the year when Toyota adds the Camry Solara coupe and convertible models to the Camry family as successors to the Camry coupe it discontinued after 1996.
2000: Toyota Camry – 422,961 units sold
The Camry, following a light refresh for the 2000 model year, again outsells its four-door rivals from Honda and Ford.
2001: Honda Accord – 414,718 units sold
Is this roundup starting to feel like a prize fight between the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry? For 2001, the Accord snatches top sales honors back from its rival.
2002: Toyota Camry – 434,135 units sold
The Camry is all new for the 2002 model year, and that same year marks the beginning of the Toyota sedan’s 18-consecutive-year run as the top-selling car in America. We’ve done you the favor of compiling the sales numbers for each Camry generation below, instead of making you scroll through 18 more photos of Camrys. Sorry, if you’re into that kinda thing.
2003: Toyota Camry – 413,296
2004: Toyota Camry – 426,990
2005: Toyota Camry – 431,703
2006: Toyota Camry – 448,445 units sold
Sales of the Toyota Camry begin to ramp up, apparently in response to the release of the all-new 2007-model-year example in early 2006. The new Camry sports more interesting styling and an available 268-hp 3.5-liter V-6. Also this year, the Camry gains a fuel-efficient hybrid model (pictured here). In 2007 the Camry’s sales volume is the highest recorded since the Oldsmobile Cutlass’s epic 1979 sales. The following year, Camry sales decline significantly as 2008 is the year the American economy drives off the rails. Skip ahead to 2010 and the Camry numbers top the charts, even during recalls that stole headlines. The unintended-acceleration furor turns out to be over little more than ill-fitted floor mats, not actual mechanical defects.
2007: Toyota Camry – 473,108
2008: Toyota Camry – 436,617
2009: Toyota Camry – 356,824
2010: Toyota Camry – 327,804
2011: Toyota Camry – 308,510
2012: Toyota Camry – 404,886 units sold
The Camry’s total redesign proves to be a powerful sales booster, with 2012 volumes eclipsing 2011 volumes by nearly 100,000 units. Nevertheless, the Camry continues its finishing-order streak in Car and Driver comparison tests, placing fifth in another six-car showdown. There’s a dramatic change in sales number for the Camry in 2016. This has less to do with the Camry than with market forces overall: Trucks and SUVs are ridiculously popular, so sales of traditional cars begin to fade.
2013: Toyota Camry – 408,484
2014: Toyota Camry – 428,606
2015: Toyota Camry – 429,355
2016: Toyota Camry – 388,618
2017: Toyota Camry – 387,081 units sold
Car sales continue their slow decline in the U.S. in 2017, although that same year the Camry is all new (and labeled a 2018 model). America’s best-selling car ranks seventh in 2018 sales overall when trucks and SUVs are factored in. Other Camry sales-beaters include the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and Ford F-150. In 2020, sales took a 13 percent drop, thanks to global pandemic that put the world in park. Camry sales in 2020 were the lowest they had ever been, but the sedan sold over 30,000 more units than the Honda Civic, and almost 100,000 more than the Accord.
2018: Toyota Camry – 343,439
2019: Toyota Camry – 336,978
2020: Toyota Camry – 294,348
Best-Selling Cars, Trucks, and SUVs of 2020
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