Tesla’s Model 3 reaches #16 on the world’s best-selling cars list

Tesla’s Model 3 is the best-selling EV of all time—it has now sold over 800,000 units, surpassing the Nissan LEAF, which passed the 500,000 milestone in 2020. That’s all very well, you may say, but how do Model 3 sales stack up in terms of the overall global auto market? In fact, in 2020 Tesla’s star EV was the 16th best-selling car (fossil or electric) in the world—a pretty respectable showing for a 14-year-old company. 

Above: Tesla's Model 3 (Source: EVANNEX; Photo by Casey Murphy)

According to data from Focus2Move (reported on by James Morris, writing in Forbes), Model 3 sold a total of 439,760 units in 2020. That’s over a third as many as the world’s top-selling car, the Toyota Corolla—again, not too shabby for a model that’s only been on sale in the US since 2018 (and considerably later in other markets).

The list of the world’s Top 3 sellers won’t surprise anyone— the Toyota Corolla took the gold with 1,134,262 global sales in 2020, followed by the Toyota RAV4 and the Ford F Series of pickup trucks. However, as Mr. Morris points out, there are some interesting insights in store for those who dig deeper into the data.

As every observant traveler knows, the mix of models on the road differs radically from one country to the next. Ford’s pickups may be #3 on the global stage, but at home the F-150 is the undisputed king of vehicle sales. In the land of wide-open spaces, if you ain’t drivin’ a truck, you ain’t country (in Europe, by contrast, pickup trucks are seldom seen, except in the vicinity of farms). The US is currently lagging far behind EV-leader Europe, but that might just change in a year or so, when Ford’s F-150 Lightning, along with a wave of other e-pickups, including Tesla’s Cybertruck, silently roar onto the market.

Speaking of Europe, plug-in vehicle sales increased there by 147% in 2020, according to JATO Dynamics (137% according to EV-volumes), and since the beginning of 2021, sales growth has accelerated. The top-seller on the Continent in 2020 was the Renault Zoe (which isn’t sold in the US), which moved 99,261 units, followed by the pricier Tesla Model 3, in second place with 85,713 units.

A completely different story is unfolding in the world’s largest auto market. Four Chinese EV models made the global top 10 in April, despite being available only in China. The Wuling Hongguang Mini EV (no relation to the MINI brand owned by BMW) came out of nowhere to steal the show—in April it outsold Tesla’s Model 3 by two to one, and it’s very close to usurping Model 3’s #1 spot on a year-to-date basis.

Looking at April’s figures (courtesy of EV Sales), it’s apparent that the triumph of electric SUVs may be at hand. Unlike the pickup truck, the SUV is a global favorite, and two new electric models have rocketed out of the starting gate. Tesla’s Model Y outsold Model 3 on a global basis in April—and it isn’t even widely available in Europe yet. Meanwhile, VW’s ID.4 likewise pushed its non-SUV cousin, the ID.3, right out of the spotlight—it became Europe’s best-selling EV in April, and isn’t far behind Tesla in the global rankings.

Several more highly-anticipated plug-in models, from both legacy brands and bold startups, are slated to hit global markets this year, and one thing seems certain: the list of the top 20 best-sellers is soon going to look a lot different, and a lot more electric.


Written by: Charles Morris; Sources: Forbes, EV-volumes, EV Sales