Only now have I been able to compile the data for the full-year 2021, even though we are well into the second quarter. It took me a lot to collect the information around the world, and then classify each model according to the segment.

The research includes data for 106 markets from the five continents that made up more than 99% of the world’s total volume last year. These were the top selling models.

The Tesla Model 3 hits the overall top 10

Elon Musk anticipated it: the Teslas would become the most popular cars in the near future. Well, the Model 3 was not the world’s best-selling car in 2021, but it certainly did a brilliant job by entering the exclusive top 10.

World's top 10 best-selling light vehicles in 2021

According to the figures, this electric saloon occupied the 9th position in the ranking thanks to its strong growth of 40% vs 2020 to 508,000 units. It is also the first time that a fully-electric car goes so far in the sales volumes.


The Toyota RAV4, aka Wildlander in China, made history by becoming the first ever SUV to lead the global ranking. The brand sold more than 1.13 million units, up by 6%. It clearly outperformed its closest rival, the Honda CR-V, up by 3% to 903,000 units.

World's top 5 best-selling passenger cars by segment in 2021

Their rival from Nissan, the X-Trail or Rogue, only increased its volume by 0.5% due to the model generation change over. Still, it was able to outsell the Mazda CX-5, Haval H6, Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace and Ford Kuga / Escape.

Among the smallest SUVs, the Honda HR-V is by far the star. Its volume increased by 20% thanks to the strong position in China, Latin America, Japan and South East Asia. The closest rival was the Volkswagen T-Cross, but with half of the Honda’s sales. Then came the Hyundai Creta, Kia Seltos and Volkswagen T-Roc.

World's top 5 best-selling SUVs by segment in 2021

The Toyota Highlander was the most popular midsize/big SUV with 443,000 units, up by 31%. It was followed by the Tesla Model Y, the 19th best-selling vehicle in the overall ranking. Then there was the BMW X3, Ford Explorer, Jeep Wrangler, Mercedes GLC, Audi Q5 and Hyundai Santa Fe.

Small cars

It is interesting to see how the majority of drivers tend to prefer larger cars. The most popular small car last year occupied the 20th position, and it was a Chinese one, the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV. It was China’s top-selling electric vehicle. The second one was the Volkswagen Polo hatchback, Suzuki Swift, the European Toyota Yaris, and the Saipa Tiba, an Iranian car for that market.

Compact cars

They are mostly compact saloons, such as the Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra and Honda Civic, quite popular in North America and China. The hatchbacks are mainly popular in Europe, so that’s why the Volkswagen Golf was so down in the ranking. Actually, the Golf was the world’s top-selling C-Hatch, but occupied the 49th position with 268,000 units.

Premium and luxury cars

The BMW 3-Series saloon ranked first with 329,000 units, up by a healthy 12% thanks to the strong demand in China, USA-Canada and Japan-Korea. It was followed by its bigger brother, the 5-Series saloon with 277,000 units, and still growing despite its age. Its rival, the Mercedes E-Class saloon was the third best-selling premium car with 231,000 units. Then came the Mercedes C-Class. Among the luxury segments, the Mercedes S-Class led the way by far with 83,000 units vs 46,000 units of the BMW 7-Series.

Pickup trucks

Although the Ford F-150 kept the crown, it lost ground and was threatened by the Toyota Hilux, up by 22%. Unlike the Ford that sells most of its units in North America, the Toyota is very popular all over the world, especially in the developing markets.

World's top 5 best-selling pickups, sports cars, MPVs in 2021

The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and Ram 1500 also lost ground and were out of the top 10. The Ford Ranger, Isuzu D-Max and Toyota Tacoma posted positive variations versus 2020.

Sport cars

The Ford Mustang was again the world’s top-selling sport car but lost 15% of sales compared to 2020, allowing the Dodge Challenger to challenge it. The Porsche 911 came third, up by a healthy 13%. Chevrolet Corvette demand soared by 53%, leaving the small Mazda MX-5 in fifth position.

The author of the article, Felipe Munoz, is an Automotive Industry Specialist at JATO Dynamics.