What Did the World Buy in 2018? Plenty of SUVs, and 74 Percent More Electrics

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
what did the world buy in 2018 plenty of suvs and 74 percent more electrics

Focusing primarily on the U.S. market sometimes leads to a skewed view of what the average global consumer demands in their driveway, but not always. Broader trends don’t respect geographical boundaries; interest in light trucks doesn’t stop at the border.

As American buyers increasingly demand more additions to their high-riding vehicle buffet, the same call can be heard in other markets. And, just as Americans took home more electric vehicles (thanks, Tesla) in 2018, the segment recorded significant growth in places you’ve never visited.

However, the world still loves the Ford F-150. No change there.

Let’s take a global peek at last year’s buying decisions.

Sales data compiled by JATO Dynamics (hat tip to Seth Parks) shows a global market in a state of flux — and shrinking. Global passenger car and light commercial vehicle sales fell 0.5 percent in 2018, the first annual drop in a decade. Blame North America and China, mainly.

While new vehicle sales fell 0.2 percent in North America, a mid-year downturn in the Chinese market saw that country — buyer of 30 percent of the world’s new vehicles — fall 2.8 percent. Europe, the Middle East, and Africa took home 1.1 percent fewer vehicles, with the UK recording the sharpest drop (-6 percent) and Russia the largest gain (+13 percent).

What else happened in 2018? For the first time, India bought more vehicles than Germany, becoming the world’s fourth-largest car market. Buyers in Latin America took home more new vehicles than Japan.

Indeed, while North America and Europe appear to have peaked, growth in Latin America and Southeast Asia remains strong. Countries like Brazil and Thailand recorded double-digit increases in new vehicle sales.

In terms of vehicle segments, crossovers and SUVs are as popular as clean drinking water. Volume rose 7 percent in 2018, with that segment’s share of global sales rising from 33.8 percent to 36.4 percent. Still, JATO Dynamics notes that the rate of SUV growth slowed in 2018, compared to the double-digit volume increases of past years. All SUV segments recorded growth in 2018.

Global leader in the crossover/SUV field is Renault-Nissan (12 percent share), though Toyota, Hyundai-Kia, and Volkswagen all recorded double-digit growth.

You can probably anticipate what’s coming next. Cars. Yes, those segments dwindled as more and more buyers shacked up with new SUVs. Globally, compact car volume shrunk 8 percent last year, with sales of MPVs dropping 14 percent. Subcompacts and midsizers also shed buyers.

Hurt by losses in the U.S. and Europe, the best-selling passenger car segment, compacts, saw its market share drop to 16.8 percent — less than half that of SUVs.

While overall volume remains low, electric vehicles had a boffo year in 2018, mainly due to the ramp-up of Tesla Model 3 production in the U.S. and China’s continuing push for EV sales (zealous European lawmakers played something of a role, too). EV volume rose 74 percent to 1,261,000 vehicles, or about 1.5 percent of all new vehicle sales. Just two years earlier, the world saw only 391,000 EV sales.

It should come as no surprise that pickup sales made up a healthier slice of the world’s new vehicle pie last year, but you might be surprised that the U.S. was not the country with the largest pickup sales growth. Sure, that country buys half the world’s pickups, but Brazil and Thailand recorded the best segment growth.

Globally, pickup volume rose 5 percent in 2018, with the segment’s share of new vehicles sales now standing at 6.4 percent. Winner among the world’s pickups — and all vehicle models — remains the Ford F-150, which sold 1,076,153 units last year. If environmentalists are taking stock of this, they can rejoice in EVs collectively outselling the single most popular vehicle model.

F-150 sales in 2018, it should be noted, were flat.

Among the top five best-selling models, no surprises exist. The F-150 leads the pack, followed by the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Toyota RAV4, and the Nissan X-Trail/Rogue. Should last year’s trends continue, expect to see the RAV4 reach the number three spot.

[Images: Ford, Nissan, Tesla]

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2 of 88 comments
  • Sfredst Sfredst on Feb 24, 2019

    The writer had all this data available and chose not to share it with us? What is that all about? Trying to use data to push the writer's ideas? What a letdown of an article. This is not journalism it is crap!

  • SuperCarEnthusiast SuperCarEnthusiast on Mar 01, 2019

    “EV volume rose 74 percent to 1,261,000 vehicles, or about 1.5 percent of all new vehicle sales. Just two years earlier, the world saw only 391,000 EV sales.“. A lot of state/local governments are requiring their departments to buy EVs even if they do not want them!

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.