By on December 27, 2011

Over the past few weeks, we flew over RomaniaSouth AfricaZimbabwe and New Caledonia. And what could be the complete opposite of a paradisiac island with white sandy beaches currently right in the middle of Summer? Try one with only a couple of hours of daylight, right in the middle of a traditionally very intense Winter: Iceland.

For those of you dear readers for which geography was not the forte at school (yes you in the back with the red shirt, I’m talking to you), Iceland is a lovely island up north of the Atlantic Ocean roughly midway between Greenland and England. Just don’t visit it in winter because 1) everything is closed, and 2) blink and you missed daylight. Iceland was under the spotlight so to speak last year when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano (say that word very very quickly so we can have a laugh) erupted, causing widespread air travel disruption.

If very very very long winter nights by the fire are not your thing, that’s OK, I’m with you, and this is why I prepared 159 additional countries for you to visit in my blog, so don’t be shy and click away!

Now. Cars. Yes. It’s a car site after all. The Icelandic car market, although very limited, has gone through a radical transformation since the economic crisis of 2008-2009…

You see Iceland being a rough country with some unsealed roads and all, 4WD are actually justified, not just for dropping the kids at school (they walk to school anyway because it’s around the corner). That is, if you have enough $$ to buy them.

Pre-crisis, there were a lot of 4WDs and SUVs among the best-selling models in Iceland. Precisely 11 in the Top 20. And if the Toyota Yaris (no, not a 4WD) was #1, the Toyota Land Cruiser ranked #2 (admire it above in location – picture taken by myself yes sir)…

…the Toyota RAV4 was #5 and the Land Cruiser 200 was #7.


Pos Model 6m 2008 %
1 Toyota Yaris 424 4.8%
2 Toyota Land Cruiser 418 4.7%
3 Skoda Octavia 375 4.2%
4 Toyota Auris 269 3.0%
5 Toyota Rav4 256 2.9%
6 Subaru Legacy 214 2.4%
7 Toyota Land Cruiser 200 194 2.2%
8 Honda CR-V 156 1.8%
9 Hyundai Getz 153 1.7%
10 Toyota Corolla 151 1.7%
11 Hyundai i30 145 1.6%
12 Subaru Forester 142 1.6%
13 Toyota Avensis 141 1.6%
14 Nissan Qashqai 140 1.6%
15 Suzuki Grand Vitara 133 1.5%
16 Hyundai Tucson 121 1.4%
17 VW Golf 121 1.4%
18 Hyundai Santa Fe 121 1.4%
19 Subaru Impreza 119 1.3%
20 Kia Sorento 118 1.3%


Then the crisis hit.

And the car market in Iceland was annihilated. At its worst, it was down 89 percent year-on-year over the first 5 months of 2009. Over the full year 2009 it was down 76 percent at 2,132 units. Since then it has slowly crept back up but is still nowhere near its pre-crisis levels: up 46 percent in 2010 at 3,106 units and a further 66 percent over the first 11 months of 2011 at 4,771 registrations. To be compared to 15,942 in 2007…

And with the crisis, a completely new set of cars appeared atop the best-seller rankings. The most recent data I have is already one year old and covers the first 7 months of 2010 but the difference is already striking. Much less 4WDs, only 2 in the Top 10: the Suzuki Grand Vitara and Toyota Land Cruiser 150.

Instead, it’s a (cold) flood of small cars: the VW Polo takes the lead with a very respectable 9 percent market share…

…followed by the Toyota Yaris at 7.3 percent (in-situ here courtesy of me)…

… then the Suzuki Swift at 6.5 percent

and the Hyundai i30 at 6.2 percent.

In the Top 10, there’s also the Chevrolet Spark…

…VW Golf and Hyundai i20!

Pos Model 2010 %
1 VW Polo 217 9.0%
2 Toyota Yaris 175 7.3%
3 Suzuki Swift 156 6.5%
4 Hyundai i30 149 6.2%
5 Suzuki Grand Vitara 136 5.7%
6 Skoda Octavia 107 4.5%
7 Chevrolet Spark 95 4.0%
8 VW Golf 87 3.6%
9 Toyota Land Cruiser 150 84 3.5%
10 Hyundai i20 80 3.3%
11 Toyota RAV4 63 2.6%
12 Ford Focus 61 2.5%
13 Toyota Avensis 58 2.4%
14 Toyota Auris 55 2.3%
15 Chevrolet Lacetti 54 2.2%
16 Honda CR-V 44 1.8%
17 Subaru Forester 42 1.7%
18 Honda Jazz 42 1.7%
19 Mazda3 37 1.5%
20 Suzuki Jimny 37 1.5%

And I can’t let you go without the traditional golden nugget that will make you shine in the darkness of boring dinners…

The Icelandic consumer is also rediscovering the joys of more rustic 4WDs, resuscitating the Lada Niva (up to #33)

and the Land Rover Defender (at #39) – granted, this is one overpriced 4WD but hey, it sold just 11 units, not enough to put the government in bankruptcy yet again…

If you want more sales data about Iceland click here.

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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16 Comments on “Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Iceland Forced To Downgrade...”

  • avatar

    Is the Spark the ugliest thing on wheels or what?
    I’d like to see the i30 sell in the US with its sensible styling and not overly bloated proportions, but that’ll never happen.

  • avatar

    Iceland had the world’s most beautiful women. It was illegal for US servicemen to marry them in the 1980’s but I know one who did. They threw him out of the military and 8 months after he returned home she came over.
    Definitely worth it.

  • avatar

    Why no Skoda Yeti?

  • avatar

    Hey Matt, what are you doing in Iceland? Missing certain traditional white Christmas? :) Though it seems to be warm when you took that photo, no snow or ice.

    Anyway, man, it’s a seriously small market.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey MrWhopee,
      I visited Iceland during the 2008 summer, just before the crisis hit. The thing is, in summer, it’s bright nearly 24/7…
      Sometimes i wonder whether i kick started the crisis by not spending enough $$ in hotels and restaurants while I was there……

  • avatar

    Matt: just out of curiousity, what country has been hardest hit from the crisis year over year? Per units or dollar figure.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey Dimwit,
      By its sheer volume it would have the be the USA, however the US were not the worst in terms of percentage drop.
      Among big countries the ones hit hardest percentage drop-wise were:
      – Russia: from 2,704,040 units in 2008 to 1,465,742 in 2009, that’s -46%
      – Spain: from 1,614,835 in 2007 to 1,161,154 in 2008, that’s -28%, then a further -18% in 2009
      Hope this helps

  • avatar

    I thought the Yaris and Auris were the same cars. No? GM needs to sell the Sonic, Equinox and Cruze in all countries where Toyota sells the Yaris, Corolla and Rav-4. Toyota is clearly outclasses by Chevy in these entries. The Spark looks godawful and ugly. Headlights are upto the A-Pillar!! I hope Chevy doesn’t bring it stateside.

    BTW good job on the blog. I like how there is sales info for all countries at one place. Thailand is missing tho.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey alluster!

      Thanks for the praise… and the link! However these are just brands, am after models rankings :-) so if you have info on models for Thailand please send them my way!

      And no, the Toyota Yaris is different from the Auris:

  • avatar

    The cratering of Iceland’s financial system and the subsequent switch away from 4wd shows that 2wd is, in fact, OK for the vast majority of buyers, even in Iceland.

    A co-worker just returned from a pre-Christmas visit. Winter is the off-peak time to go, but it’s an expensive vacation. He met a fisherman who was a bank manager pre-financial meltdown… He said that meat is now a luxury for a middle class wage earner, although fish is cheap.

  • avatar

    Iceland is dark in the winter, but not all THAT cold. The island pretty much sits in the middle of the Gulf Stream, and all that warm water keeps things pretty nice. I had an Icelandic roommate in college in Maine – according to her eastern Maine was MUCH colder than Rekjavic. I still remember an Icelandic joke she liked to tell:

    What do you do if you are lost in the forest in Iceland? Stand up.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey krhodes,
      It’s not that cold but imagine that: the highest temperature ever recorded in Reykjavík is 26.2 °C (79.2 °F) on 30 July 2008. Highest! Ever!

      • 0 avatar

        That sounds like paradise to me. I can stand cold, I don’t even mind the dark all that much, but I HATE heat. Summer in Maine is on the warm side for me, I have the A/C cranked from May until October.

        On the other hand, I can’t stand fish, so the local cuisine would not do too much for me.

    • 0 avatar

      I was stationed in Iceland for one very long year. It wasn’t a bad place but being away from the family sucked. Iceland was much warmer than the base in North Dakota I had just left. It was -30 when I left ND and +45 when I got to Iceland. The wind was something else, have never felt or seen wind like that in my life. Straps were installed on all vehicle doors to keep them from meeting the front fenders when the wind caught them. The wind was strong enough to move dumpsters.

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