What is the bestselling car in the world? It is a simple question, but it does not have a simple answer. The world’s first bestseller was the Ford Model T. The bestselling chassis, wearing different bodies and badges in different countries, was the Fiat 124. The car that sold the best with virtually no changes was the immortal Volkswagen Bug. And the nameplate that has surpassed all others, even as the vehicle carrying it evolved, is the Toyota Corolla. Learn more about each contender and decide for yourself which is truly the bestselling car of all time.
4. Ford Model T: The Best Selling Car *Per Capita*
In 1908, Henry Ford decided to build a car his factory workers could afford. This quest drove him to revolutionize his design and manufacturing process. The result was the legendary Ford Model T. The Model T was the first car to sell one million units, then five million, then ten million, and finally fifteen million. Historians suspect that in 1914, nine out of every ten cars on the planet were Fords!
The Model T would continue dominating the global market until 1927. This Ford held onto the worldwide production record for 46 years. When the Beetle finally dethroned the Model T, the number of humans with driver’s licenses had increased exponentially. No car will ever touch the Model T’s number of units sold per capita. That makes the Model T the most popular car of all time.
3. Fiat 124 and Lada Classic: The Best Selling Car *Chassis*
In 1966, Italian manufacturer Fiat launched the 124. They literally launched this new model, throwing the little car out of a plane with a parachute attached–for a publicity stunt. The Italian manufacturer built a four-door saloon, a station wagon, a four-sea coupe, and even a convertible on the same chassis.
Fiat also licensed the chassis to manufacturers worldwide, from the Soviet Government to Premier Automobiles of India to SEAT of Spain. As a result, Russian-built Lada Classics were available until 2012, with over seventeen million Lada units produced. The Fiat 124 is easily one of the best selling chassis of all time.
2. Volkswagen Beetle: The Best Selling Car *Unchanged*
The Volkswagen Beetle was so much more than a car: It was a cultural icon and a rolling piece of history. Conceived as a people’s car–a Volkswagen–the first Beetle was produced in 1938. It was elegant in its simplicity and perfect in its purpose-built reliability. People the world over loved the little car and bought it in droves. The final Beetle rolled out of a Mexican factory in 2003.
In February 1972, the Volkswagen Beetle officially overtook the Model T and became the world’s bestselling car. By 2003, the world bought 21 million Volkswagen Beetles. One of the most incredible things about the Beetle was that its design–originating in the 1930s–remained in demand into the 21st century, relatively unchanged. Purists call the Volkswagen Beetle the best selling car of all time.
1. Toyota Corolla: The Best Selling Car *Nameplate*
In 1966, Toyota introduced the subcompact Corolla to Japan. With its reliable front engine and RWD drivetrain, the car was a runaway success. In 1974, the manufacturer launched the Toyota Corolla worldwide. The name Corolla was a spinoff of the Toyota Crown and is Latin for “small crown.” But the Corolla would soon reign supreme. By 1997, the Corolla (by then a FWD compact) had sold more nameplates than the Volkswagen Beetle.
Critics point out how much the car has changed over the years, but Toyota argued the Corolla adapted to the times. Because of its evolution, the Toyota Corolla is selling as strong as ever. It is a favorite car for commuters and rental fleets worldwide. As of 2021, Toyota has sold 50 million Corollas across twelve vehicle generations. Toyota proudly calls its Corolla the best selling car of all time.
*Honorable Mention* Chevrolet Suburban: The Longest-Selling Nameplate
The Toyota Corolla is one of the oldest continually-produced nameplates in the history of the automobile, in production for 54 years and counting. But the Corolla will have to survive another decade to beat the VW Beetle: in continuous production for 65 years. But neither of them can touch the longest-selling nameplate in history, an American classic that’s still going strong.
Chevrolet sold its first Suburban in 1934 for the 1935 model year. That first-generation was called the Carryall Suburban, and it was one of the first all-metal-bodied station wagons. Today, the Chevy Suburban is a full-size SUV that shares a chassis with the Silverado. In 2020, Chevrolet sold 37,636 Suburbans. That’s impressive momentum for a nameplate nearing 90 years old.