By on May 7, 2011

So you thought all the fuss about the Royal Wedding was over for good? Wait for it… no it’s not! What better opportunity will I ever have to bring you up-to-date on the British car market?

About one a day. But then, the alternative would have been another Toyota Hilux series to celebrate the other occasion of last weekend.

Should you be well and truly over anything remotely connected to British royalty, that’s ok, I understand. And there are 153 other countries to explore in my blog. You will enjoy it because it is grand.

Back to the Queen and all.

For those of you – admit it, you were watching, at least with one eye – that paid more attention to the cars than the dresses (was I the only one?), you will have noticed a 1978 custom-designed Rolls Royce Phantom VI (Kate’s ride), a Bentley State Limousine (William’s ride), bodyguards in Range Rovers, a couple of Jaguars, an Aston Martin DB5 Convertible, plus a couple of nice carriages and beautiful horses.

Now the big news: carriages have gone out of fashion with the masses, and most British (and the world) have never stepped into these cars… As much as we love a good Royal Wedding, it gives a false impression. In 2010, Bentley and Aston Martin had a 0.05 percent market share in the UK, Rolls Royce was at 0.02 percent (but had a record year with world sales of 2,711 units – up 171%), only Jaguar commanded a relatively reasonable 0.81 percent share with 16,417 units sold.

Alright. Now that we have covered the 1 percent of the British market that reflects all the Royal Wedding pomp we’ve seen on TV, let’s talk business and look at what 99% of British consumers buy. Yes, the real people, what cars do they buy, really? (but if you can’t get enough Royal Wedding cars, go here)

First a bit of perspective. Let’s rewind 35 years to 1975: then, no less than 7 English brands were represented in the Top 10 models ranking: Austin, Ford (the UK branch), Hillman, Leyland, Mini, Morris and Vauxhall (General Motors’ UK branch). Check it out:

UK Top 10 Best selling models in 1975:

Pos Model Sales
1 Ford Cortina 106,787
2 Ford Escort 103,817
3 Mini 84,668
4 Morris Marina 78,632
5 Austin Allegro 63,339
6 Vauxhall Viva 54,731
7 Hillman Avenger 38,377
8 Hillman Hunter 28,966
9 Leyland Princess 28,707
10 Datsun Sunny 28,264

Nowadays we’re down to Ford, Vauxhall and Mini. In the consumer’s mind, these three brands produce national cars even though in a strict sense none are British-owned. Bentley is now owned by VW, Rolls Royce is licensed to BMW, Land Rover & Jaguar were sold to the Indians.

MG is in the process of being revived. MG6 and MG3 UK assembly planned for 2011-2012 in the Longbridge plant, and Rover still survives in China under the name Roewe. Lame.

So not really a good story for all these British car brands. Now the good news is, Ford UK has placed a model on top of British sales for the last 40 years! Yep, that’s 40 consecutive years of Ford domination. The manufacturer achieved this thanks to the Cortina, Escort, Fiesta and Focus nameplates. Talk about predictable… The last non-Ford to lead the English market was the Austin Morris 1100/1300 in 1971.

Now about the UK market this year.

Oh wait just one last thing before I do that, I’m sure you’re all dying to know what were the best selling cars in the UK at the time of the last Royal Wedding, Lady Di’s in 1981.

Be my guest:

UK Top 10 Best selling models in 1981:

Pos Model 1981
1 Ford Cortina 159,804
2 Ford Escort 141,081
3 Ford Fiesta 110,753
4 Austin Metro 110,283
5 Morris Ital 48,490
6 Vauxhall Chevette 36,838
7 Vauxhall Cavalier 33,631
8 Datsun Cherry 32,874
9 Vauxhall Astra 30,845
10 Austin Mini 28,772

This was the last year the Ford Cortina (aka Ford Taunus in Continental Europe) dominated UK sales before the Ford Escort took the lead for the following 9 years.

Ok now to today. In 2010, the UK market was up 2 percent at 2,030,846 registrations. This was only due to a first half boosted by scrappage schemes, since July 2010 and up to April 2011 the UK market has been falling each month.

UK Top 10 Best selling models in 2010:

Pos Model 2010 %
1 Ford Fiesta 103,013 5.1%
2 Vauxhall Astra 80,646 4.0%
3 Ford Focus 77,804 3.8%
4 Vauxhall Corsa 77,398 3.8%
5 VW Golf 58,116 2.9%
6 VW Polo 45,517 2.2%
7 Peugeot 207 42,185 2.1%
8 BMW 3 Series 42,020 2.1%
9 Mini 41,883 2.1%
10 Nissan Qashqai 39,048 1.9%

The Ford Fiesta is currently the best selling model in England, selling 103,013 units for a 5.1 percent market share in 2010. The Fiesta hopped onto the first place as soon as the new generation launched in late 2008. Now that the honeymoon period after the launch is over and the hype has come down, the Fiesta has loosened its grip on the UK market and the ranking has gone a little crazy.

In December 2010, the Vauxhall Astra (Opel in Continental Europe), freshly revamped, topped the charts.

In January 2011, the Ford Focus, UK best-seller for 10 years before the Fiesta took over, had a revival solely due to rebates on the current model about to be replaced.

In February 2011, the VW Golf, not satisfied with dominating the European ranking, also took the lead in the UK for the very first time in the Golf nameplate’s 35 year history. Nothing less.

In March and April 2011, things came back to normal somehow with the Fiesta holding the pole position. But expect more turbulence in 2011 with the new gen Focus gearing up.

UK Top 10 best selling models in April 2011

Pos Model April %
1 Ford Fiesta 6,755 4.9%
2 VW Golf 4,973 3.6%
3 Vauxhall Astra 4,900 3.6%
4 Vauxhall Corsa 4,888 3.5%
5 Ford Focus 4,843 3.5%
6 VW Polo 4,524 3.3%
7 Vauxhall Insignia 3,912 2.8%
8 Nissan Qashqai 3,738 2.7%
9 BMW 3 Series 3,133 2.3%
10 VW Passat 2,720 2.0%

As you would know by now ,I won’t let you go before sharing some more trivia so you can boast about your incredible knowledge about the British car market.

In 2010, the Nissan Qashqai (the European Rogue) ranked #10 over the full year with 39,048 sales and 1.9 percent share. This was the first year since 1983 and the Nissan Sunny that a Japanese car landed in the year-end Top 10.

Last month, the Vauxhall Insignia ranked 7th. Launched in 2008 and sold under the Opel brand in Continental Europe, it was the first car to use General Motors’ Epsilon II platform, the one the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu will be based on.

Thanks to the new generation just launched, the VW Passat is back in the UK Top 10 in April 2011, the first time since July 2007. In fact, with the Golf at #2 and the Polo at #6, Volkswagen places 3 models in the Top 10, like Vauxhall. It is the first time in almost 6 years this happens. Last time was October 2005.

Now if you want to explore the British car market in much more detail, month by month up to 2003, and year by year up to 1965, you can always check my blog here. Also, the Top 50 best selling models in the UK in 2010 are here.

That’s all for today!

Source of UK sales figures: The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (

Matt Gasnier, based in Sydney, Australia, runs a blog named Best Selling Cars, dedicated to counting cars all over the world.


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36 Comments on “Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: In Great Britain, Royals Roll In Rollers, The Subjects Drive Fords....”

  • avatar

    Someone please point out to me if I missed this, but who is the YTD leader? I would assume it is the Fiesta, what with leading 2 of the months and all, but it is impossible to know. Maybe in January no one bought it because they were all swayed to the cheap Focus.

    Also, when I look at that chart, it appears there are 9 mainstream models and then the 3 series. What is the relative price difference in the UK between the 3 series and your average Golf or Focus?

  • avatar

    Hey Blue,

    The YTD ranking is as follows (largely influenced by a traditionally strong March, one of two registration change months in the UK)

    1. Ford Fiesta 34,679
    2. Ford Focus 29,278
    3. Vauxhall Corsa 25,424
    4. Vauxhall Astra 22,150
    5. VW Golf 22,074

    More info here:


  • avatar

    Ah yes, the 1975 Hillman Avenger—sold in the US as the Plymouth Cricket. Perception is everything…

    I remember two students in the University of Nottingham sports car club who rented one for a track day that we ran at the old RAF base at Saltby. They cut a corner too sharply and barrel rolled it. For fun I followed them back to the rental car agency to see what would happen. They opened the front door,threw in the keys,and ran.

    That day I got my one, and only drive, in a pristine Lotus Elan.

    I wish I still owned my Mark III Spitfire that I had then…

  • avatar

    Sort of interesting to know that Rolls-Royce has 0.02% market share in the UK.

    The huge post-rear window on the Bentley is weird. I guess so they can wave? But the window won’t go down?

    Shows how old the flying spur is.

  • avatar

    I couldn’t pass up this chance to be somewhat on topic with this pic of probably the only example of this particular Limey car to live in the Pacific Northwest.

    Okay, no direct link. Go to and click on the button that says “1984 Dolomite Sprint” and you’ll see several pics of this weird little magenta sedan.

  • avatar

    And my personal memory of that 1975 list was the Morris (Austin in the US) Marina. My brother-in-law (back then just my sister’s boyfriend) owned one. 35 years later, we still have horrible memories of that car. There are worse things in the automotive universe than a 1980 Chevy Citation.

    Much worse.

    Always wanted to drive an Austin Allegro to see if they were really as bad as their reputation leads one to believe.

  • avatar

    “Rover still survives in China under the name Roewe. Lame.”

    Not quite, Rover is a dormant name owned by Tata. You could argue it still lives on in Land-Rover though.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought Ford had something to do with the legal rights to that name. Either way, the rights to the name were kept to make sure that the Chinese didn’t revive it.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s a really interesting story actually. BMW retained rights to the name when they sold the MG-Rover concern to the Pheonix consortium and leased it out to Pheonix on the proviso that MG-Rover do not brand any 4×4 as a Rover. This was apparently at the behest of Ford who stipulated this clause to protect the value of the Land-Rover name which they bought from BMW in 2000.

        Interestingly this was somewhat similar to the situation facing BMW when they least the Rolls-Royce name from Rolls-Royce PLC. Part of the deal there was BMW divesting themselves via a complex series of joint ventures of their aerospace operations, in effect swapping their jet engine manufacturing for use of the RR nameplate.

        Anyway, fast forward to 2006, MG-Rover have gone belly up, with Nanking and SAIC picking over the bones. At this point Ford go and buy Rover outright from BMW so as to tie up loose ends so Land-Rover can be sold as a complete package (SAIC were sniffing around the nameplate too but now have to make do with Roewe). In doing so Rover and Land-Rover are re-united (ironically Rover is now a subsidiary of Land-Rover, completely the reverse of the original set-up).

        Rover though is still a reasonably untarnished nameplate, so it is not inconceivable that it may be resurrected by Tata.

  • avatar

    While watching the Royal Wedding I saw a Benz R-class among the convoy of cars. Um, who in their right minds would use an R-class in such a pompous occasion?

  • avatar

    Nary a Morris Minor to be found!

  • avatar

    Whilst in the US some of our employers provide Health Insurance, in the UK the favored perk is the company car.

    Ford and Vauxhall really took advantage of that market whereas BMC/ Leyland was late to the party.

    The Ford Cortina was the rep-mobile of choice for the 60s-80s until the Ford Sierra came out in 82 then Vauxhall did rather well with the Cavalier (a much better car than the US version).

    The Morris Marina was a somewhat cynical attempt to retrieve some of that market, remnants of the Morris Minor mixed with some leftover MGB bits to build a conventional (at the time) RWD car.

    The Triumph Dolomite was a similar idea , using the FWD Longitudinal 4 cylinder body shell of the Triumph 1300 and converting it to the RWD Dolomite. Maybe the first time that had been done. This was the potential Sales Manager’s car with nice trim, a precursor to the BMW 3 series. More successful in execution but not a huge seller.

    Nowadays company cars are taxed by the UK government, this has curbed the practice for people who mostly used the cars for personal use.

    One of the downsides of these company vehicles flooding into the market is that the depreciation on used cars is very high. Cars over 7 years old are frequently not worth repairing after a minor fender bender.

    • 0 avatar

      “The Morris Marina was a somewhat cynical attempt to retrieve some of that market, remnants of the Morris Minor mixed with some leftover MGB bits to build a conventional (at the time) RWD car.”

      To call it cynical gives the BL management way too much credit. Hamfisted or misguided would be more apt adjectives.

      That said there is quite a following for the Marina now, and it sold quite well in its day which unfortunately was used as justification for not bringing forward or spending money on strategically more important models.

      • 0 avatar

        “Cynical” as in they didn’t have much regard for the intelligence of their potential customer.

        The car was designed, built and marketed in record time (by BL standards)and it showed.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, the Marina and the Allegro were one of the few times that BL had any kind of concept of what they wanted to do with their cars: Austin’s were supposed to be advanced thinking, fwd, relatively high end technology for their time. Morris’, on the other hand, were supposed to be conservative, low tech, and appealing to those Brits who were technological luddites (which, from my reading, was a major portion of the car-buying market at that time).

        A very good idea – unfortunately sabotaged by two of the worst automobiles in the history of cars.

  • avatar

    Interesting that back in the 70’s and 80’s the Escort vastly outsold the GM equivalent (Astra in 1980’s) and yet fast forward to now and the Focus and Astra are pretty close in sales. I wonder why the big change (Golf has shot up but that doesn`t necessarily explain why Vauxhall should improve vis a viz Ford)

  • avatar

    I guess Nissan dumbed down CUV for us, since Nissan Qashqai front looks much better then North American Rogue.

  • avatar

    Ford actually sold a rather substantial number more Fiestas in the US in April than in the UK. I never thought that would happen!

  • avatar

    Could somebody tell me just what makes the current Mini a British car? It is built in Germany by a German company, last time I checked. (The first digit of the VIN is a “W”, i.e. the car was built in Germany.)

    • 0 avatar

      Mini’s (except for the Countryman) are build in Oxford, England

    • 0 avatar

      Well, I dunno, the fact that it is built in the UK might be a good place to start. Not only any old place in the UK either, it is built in the ‘BMW-OXFORD’ plant which was previously known as the Cowley works. The very same plant in fact that the very first Mini emerged from 51 years ago. The same plant that built the Morris Minor, Morris Oxford, Morris Cowley and numerous others.

      As for the VIN, you’re confusing the WMI code (World Manufacturer Identifier) for the country of origin. The code at the start of the VIN merely tells you where the manufacturer of the car is based. Some companies have separate corporate units in each country, BMW clearly do not.

      What will tell you where a car was made is character number 11, which is the Plant identifier, which in the case of BMW Oxford is ‘T’.

  • avatar

    Why Ford and GM dominate in English speaking countries except of US?

    • 0 avatar

      In my opinion the US market is much more price sensitive than the UK (i can’t talk for other English speaking countries), in part this is due to more premium smaller cars which in tern is due to higher gas prices.

      Also in the UK it appears that reliability isn’t held as important as the US. German cars are considered well engineered and built to last – this might be historically due to the crap that British Leyland produced, but now i think is because it has been better than the french and Italian cars + German cars not being as rare or as expensive to fix as the us, . The Japanese brands are typically considered boring (Toyota).

      As mentioned above Ford & Vauxhall are considered by many to be British brands although I’m not sure why this is

  • avatar

    Vauxhall was original British car manufacturer and the first Ford outpost outside of US was in England, and name Ford has British origin too while Toyota has no relation to England even though some Toyotas, like Avensis are made in England. I believe that Ford also makes cars in England.

    It is interesting to note that British buy mostly British cars (at least what they consider British), French – French cars, Italians – Italian cars, Germans – German cars. SEAT also refuses to die. Same with all Asians. Even Russians buy mostly Russian Lada crap. Americans are the only nation in the world who has national brands but ignores them. Italian and French cars have a reputation of unreliable junk but still fit French and Italian character perfectly. IMO either American manufacturers have no clue about American character or culture, or there is (most likely) no such a thing as an American character, Americans are featureless blend of different immigrant cultures living in America only for convenience and ready to jump the ship in first sight of trouble, or American character is very close to Asian. America still remains a mystery to me. What is means to be American, how it is different from e.g. Japanese or German?

  • avatar

    I would have to look at the market share domestics have versus imports in each country, but I’m willing to bet the French or Italian (basically Fiat or its subsidiaries) domestic market share is no better than the Detroit 53 percent, which is down from 70 percent in 1998. And Ford is considered a domestic nameplate in both the UK and Germany, as are Vauxhall and Opel despite historic GM ownership. Holden and Ford are also considered domestic makes in Australia.

    Everything is relative, and when the imports went from next to nothing to 25 percent by the early 1980’s, the Japanese were cajoled into accepting quotas, which they then converted into higher-end product, invading even more market segments.

    It is true, though, that you’ll find more Renaults and Peugeots in France than anywhere else, Fiats in Italy, etc. but the Germans and US subsidiaries are pretty well represented everywhere you go in Europe.

  • avatar

    Are tariffs on Japanese imports extremely high in Britain/the EU? That’s what I don’t get about this list (and the glimpses of the UK car market I’ve gotten from Top Gear). I can sort of understand the British buying Vauhxalls and Fords out of some misplaced nationalism, but why on earth would you buy a *French* car if you didn’t have to? A Peugeot in a world where Hondas and Toyotas exist?

    • 0 avatar

      The question you pose is similar to that about the great wide world that someone would ask if they stared up a 12 inch diameter, 100 foot deep mineshaft, and assumed everyone lived that way.

      Having lived in both the UK and Canada, I can say that many Americans are always surprised, and even annoyed, that things are not the same as they are at home when they visit. Apparently, the assumption is that the American way is the only one worthy of merit, and any deviation makes no sense.

      In your case, you assume Hondas and Toyotas are better than Peugeots. Why? Peugeots are much more interesting cars – not everyone wants to drive an appliance. In England, Hondas are literally cars for old people. Nissan makes Noddy cars for driving instruction schools, and Toyotas are rarely mentioned. Chevrolet (Daewoo Lacetti aka Cruze) is at the very bottom of the pile.

      My suggestion is for you to take a European vacation, and to actually observe, rather than to upset your hosts by telling them how to live, a US trait I personally found and find irritating in the extreme. We don’t all want to be Americans or view the world through your restricted viewpoint. You know, not all “truths” are self-evident, whether those words are “enshrined” in a constitution or Consumer Reports reliability summary or not.

      • 0 avatar

        You know what trait I find irritating in the extreme? People lecturing me on how to think. I’m not trying to claim “American car buyers are far more intelligent and wise than British ones.” I assume every nation has its quirks (and I fully admit that we have some of the worst, like people buying absurd SUVs for no useful purpose, or buying even more ridiculous “crossovers” that don’t seem to fill ANY purpose.) I’m just curious about what those quirks are and why they exist.

        You’ve provided me with some of what I was looking for, actually, but what makes Peugeots interesting, exactly? Having bits of them fall off periodically? I fully admit that I have little experience with French cars, but from what I’ve read, their reputation for poor quality is pretty widespread. Is it, as Colin42 suggested, that reliability is a relatively low priority?

        And as noted previously, how much of an price edge do EU cars have over comparable Japanese (and other) imports, and how big a factor is that?

        I just find it curious that cars like the Accord and Camry, among the most popular in the world (and not only among us evil arrogant Americans) have so little presence in Britain, and wonder why.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a bit late, but I’ll give a reply.

      Tariffs on cars produced in Japan are high, yes, but this makes no difference because pretty much all Japanese cars offered in the EU are built in the EU.
      The European makers have no price advantage, but quite simply, why would you buy a Japanese car when you can have a European one?

      People don’t want a Toyota box – they’re so tedious. The Vauxhall Insignia and Ford Mondeo etc are at least SLIGHTLY more interesting.

      I didn’t realise until recently that in America Honda is often actually seen as an enthusiast’s car – they’re the most boring of the boring here.

  • avatar

    American tastes are strange to say the least. Americans like ugly boring cars. Honda is arguably is more dependable than more interesting cars. The fact that Hondas are ugly, boring, has a numb steering and is bloated does not matter. Same with food. Even furniture is low quality but is huge, too soft and cheap – it is next to impossible to find modern, stylish and functional furniture.

    • 0 avatar

      “Americans like ugly boring cars.”

      Most people don’t put too much thought into how a car looks unless it’s designed to look outrageous, unconventional or risque (cue any exotic car currently on the market). Most times, they just want a car that “looks cute,” “has an honest face” or something that doesn’t look too flashy or showy. Lots of people want low-key cars in muted colors that don’t draw unwanted attention.

      Americans also place a premium on reliability. So while that Honda is ugly and boring, it is also (for the most part) reliable as the sun rising and setting.

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