By on October 6, 2020

2020 Toyota RAV4 and 2020 Toyota Camry - Image: ToyotaStrong results from its best performers pushed a pair of Toyotas to familiar positions atop 2020’s third-quarter best-seller lists.

Q3 was a rollercoaster ride for automobile manufacturers as low inventory plagued dealers who enjoyed better-than-expected demand. Following COVID-19’s late-Q1/early-Q2 outbreak across the United States, mass shutdowns and severe economic hardship produced catastrophic results. Total U.S. auto sales between April and June plunged by one-third, year-over-year, a 33 percent collapse worth 1.5 million lost sales.

The third quarter, however, was markedly different, especially as the weeks wore on and pent-up demand was married to timely incentives. By September, Acura, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Lexus, Mazda, Subaru, Toyota, and Volvo were all reporting year-over-year improvement, along with General Motors and Ford Motor Company.

At the top of overarching vehicle categories, strong September results pushed typical top Toyota contenders – the RAV4 and Camry – to the top of the quarterly sales charts. While the Honda Civic had held America’s best-selling car lead as recently as the end of August, Toyota Camry sales jumped 22 percent to 28,362 during the month of September. Camry sales remain down by more than a fifth year-to-date, but Q3 volume was off by just 4 percent.

The RAV4 is now a sure bet to end 2020 as America’s top-selling SUV/crossover thanks to Q3 sales that barely slipped from 2019 levels. 2020 will be the Toyota’s fourth consecutive year as America’s top-selling SUV/crossover.

The RAV4 finished September nearly 21,000 sales ahead of its next-best-selling rival for the quarter; 65,240 sales ahead of the CR-V for the year. Among top sellers, the Q3 results for the RAV4 and CR-V are unusual: most competitors slowed far more noticeably. Only the Ford Explorer, beset by a poor launch in 2019, and surging Subaru Forester managed year-over-year gains in Q3.

(Other big Q3 YOY gains from high-volume utility vehicles include a 45-percent uptick in Chevrolet Blazer volume, 85- and 33-percent increases from the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride, a 22-percent jump in Hyundai Kona sales, and 10-percent growth from the Volkswagen Atlas.)

One year ago, the Explorer was not a part of America’s best-selling SUVs list in the third-quarter – the Jeep Cherokee was. Subaru was represented a year ago, but it was the Outback last year; the Forester this year.

Rank SUV/Crossover 2020 Q3 2019 Q3 % Change 2020 YTD 2019 YTD % Change
#1 Toyota RAV4 119,214 124,012 -3.9% 302,574 324,622 -6.8%
#2 Honda CR-V 98,436 103,795 -5.2% 237,334 280,739 -15.5%
#3 Chevrolet Equinox 67,476 79,799 -15.4% 191,727 253,956 -24.5%
#4 Toyota Highlander 62,230 68,986 -9.8% 141,301 180,169 -21.6%
#5 Nissan Rogue 60,436 97,033 -37.7% 167,401 272,300 -38.5%
#6 Ford Explorer 59,060 33,954 73.9% 160,209 135,777 18.0%
#7 Jeep Grand Cherokee 56,447 61,768 -8.6% 152,856 185,040 -17.4%
#8 Jeep Wrangler 54,071 59,035 -8.4% 150,202 176,020 -14.7%
#9 Subaru Forester 48,222 45,228 6.6% 134,082 131,447 2.0%
#10 Ford Escape 46,956 60,701 -22.6% 131,753 193,801 -32.0%

The RAV4’s streak atop the leaderboard is impressive, but it pales in comparison to the achievement of its midsize sedan sibling. Pending an entirely possible fourth-quarter shift that sees the Honda Civic knocking Toyota off its perch, 2020 now appears increasingly likely to end as the Camry’s 19th consecutive year as America’s most popular car.

The Camry’s 4-percent downturn in Q3 is striking not only because of the ongoing effects of a pandemic that caused a 9 percent industry-wide downturn last quarter. It’s striking because sales of passenger cars, in particular, are absolutely nosediving. Just look at the Camry’s highest-volume competitors as an indicator of the direction cars are going.

In Q3, the Accord, Fusion, Altima, Fusion, and Malibu combined to lose nearly 19,000 sales per month in Q3. Accord sales are declining more than six times faster than sales of the Camry. While one year ago the Camry was outselling Nissan’s Altima at a 1.6-to-1 rate, the spread is now 2.8-to-1, a devastating one-year shift.

Rank Car 2020 Q3 2019 Q3 % Change 2020 YTD 2019 YTD % Change
#1 Toyota Camry 79,046 82,448 -4.1% 204,945 258,456 -20.7%
#2 Honda Civic 73,083 86,312 -15.3% 200,941 255,484 -21.3%
#3 Toyota Corolla 56,612 81,110 -30.2% 166,213 233,978 -29.0%
#4 Honda Accord 56,537 75,028 -24.6% 145,291 204,463 -28.9%
#5 Tesla Model 3 (est.) 46,000 46,000 —- 119,000 114,000
#6 Ford Fusion 29,243 37,557 -22.1% 90,664 133,908 -32.3%
#7 Nissan Altima 28,033 51,192 -45.2% 97,082 159,969 -39.3%
#8 Hyundai Elantra 26,653 40,498 -34.2% 75,103 125,469 -40.1%
#9 Nissan Sentra 26,086 38,251 -31.8% 69,873 148,150 -52.8%
#10 Chevrolet Malibu 25,455 32,432 -21.5% 73,399 97,603 -24.8%

Rare indeed is the car that’s outperformed its 2019 sales pace in the July-September period of 2020. Among vehicles that produce at least 1,000 monthly sales, the Nissan Versa’s 24-percent increase and the Honda Fit’s 4-percent gain stand alone. Don’t draw any false conclusions about subcompacts: the segment was down 20 percent in Q3 and is down 43 percent so far this year. However, when you factor out discontinued models – Fiesta, Sonic, Yaris – the remaining fleet of subcompact players actually produced a modest 210-unit improvement in Q3.

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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24 Comments on “America’s 10 best-selling cars and 10 best-selling SUVs in 2020 Q3: Guess who?...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I would guess that the revenue from sales of the Model 3 are roughly equal to that of the Camry, and certainly higher than the other vehicles in the car list.

    With Fusion production ended, it will probably fall out of the top 10 pretty soon.

    • 0 avatar

      Revenue? Probably. Profit? LOL, no. And quality of product? Not even close.

      Tesla’s got a long way to go to fix some blocking and tackling issues with build quality. Good to see them improving as it puts pressure on others to step up the BEV offerings, but Tesla build quality is still abysmal.

      • 0 avatar

        The build quality on a Tesla isn’t going to be as good as what you’d generally find for the same money from other makers, but it’s far from abysmal. If it were, no one would be buying them.

        • 0 avatar
          Mike Beranek

          I gotta disagree with that. When was the last time a brand-new car’s roof blew off on the ride home from delivery?
          Too cavalier for my tastes.

          • 0 avatar

            I can find anecdotal “this car was built like crap” stories about every brand.

            What I know about Tesla build quality has come from sampling them on lots and a test drive. Do they feel like something you’d find at Ze Germans’ showrooms? No. I’d say the build on them feels more like what you’d find on, say, a Mazda. To me, that’s long, long way from being badly built.

            As someone who worked back in the day at a dealership that sold Yugos, I know what truly rotten quality is. Every single one of those things on our lot was pure excrement. Ditto for other cars I’ve had experience with, like malaise-era Chryslers.

          • 0 avatar

            I’d say it is a little worse than Mazda. More like high-trim Nissan. Personally, the interior ergonomics and aesthetics bother me a lot more than the actual build quality.

  • avatar

    Why would I have a hunch after the first sentence that Tim Cain wrote this?

    • 0 avatar

      Dunno. I read his name before I read the article.

      No doubt you were looking for the all-conquering Buick Encore GX three-cylinder sales stats, and also those of the stampeding out-the-door Envisions. However, as Tim knew you’d be reading this, in consultation with the deep state he held that info back. Wouldn’t want to embarass the other makes with Buicks’s alarming success, so it’s been deemed a secret so as not to rock the stock market.

  • avatar

    Ford: 100,000 Fusions moving annually, built on a fully amortized platform in completely set up factories and yet, Ford kills it. Dealers around here stocked a good selection of them and I doubt that they wouldn’t want the additional sales of a vehicle that they are very familiar with in sales and service.

  • avatar

    Toyota, unlike GM, has a well-rounded lineup. They have just about every segment covered. This was once GM’s game plan.

    • 0 avatar

      @akear – GM covered many segments with excrement. Toyota does not.

    • 0 avatar

      I was thinking this very same thing when I went to Toyota’s website a few weeks ago to look at Camrys. Toyota is the ONLY full-line automaker in the U.S. now that GM and Ford have surrendered sedan sales to the Japanese and S. Koreans. If you want a compact sedan or midsize sedan, the nearest Toyota dealer has you covered. If you want a minivan, compact or mid-sized suv, Toyota has you covered. If you want a full-size or mid-size pickup truck, Toyota has you covered as well. Toyota even offers sporty offerings, of which Toyota could do better at.

      Add in a great reputation for quality/reliability and fuel-saving hybrids and it is no wonder why Toyota is doing so well in the U.S.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    So of the 20 vehicles listed each manufacturer has the following: Toyota 4. Honda 3. Nissan 3. Ford 3 but 1 is ‘kaput’. Jeep 2. GM 2. Subaru 1. Hyundai 1. Tesla 1.

    What can we learn from this? A) That the D3 are almost entirely dependent upon truck sales? With the exception of Jeep. B) That Tesla’s role in the marketplace is more significant (already) than we expected/admit? C) That Nissan is actually a viable ‘player’ in the North American market? D) That GM has truly lost its way? With only minor impact in the markets outside of North America and China and only 2 top selling ‘passenger’ vehicles in North America, GM has been mismanaged into being an ‘also ran’?

    • 0 avatar

      Not a Dodge or Chrysler on the list. :-(

      • 0 avatar

        Why would you expect them on the list? Chrysler and Dodge are niche brands with niche sales volumes. The Rav4 outsold the combined Chrysler and Dodge sales totals for Q3 (119,214 vs. 103,804) and YTD (302,547 vs. 280,018) according to GoodCarBadCar.

        I remember when Dodge used to be in the top 5 selling brands in the U.S. Now, it is something like 15th or 16th place and Chrysler is somewhere in the 20s. I guess the only consolation in this is that I would not be surprised to see the Charger show up in the top 10 sedans once the Malibu and Fusion die off.

    • 0 avatar

      I would say that the D3 have been entirely dependent on trucks sales for more than 2 decades now. The market has just finally leaned in that direction far enough in the past decade for it to work out in their favor.

      I will say that it is somewhat shocking to me how rapidly sedan sales continue to fall. Most shocking (to me), is probably just how far ahead the RAV4 is from the rest of its peers.

      Did you know that RAV4 stands for “Recreational Active Vehicle…with 4wd”? All these years and I dont think I ever heard that.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Meh…The car list 6-10 is an indication of Covid and the rental car companies not buying or changing out their fleet.

  • avatar

    Leasing a 2020 Equinox, after one year only one issue, the TPM ( tire pressure monitor ) is out of sink resulting in a misread in tire pressure, I had to bend over with my new gage in hand! Jeez what a hassle! ;-)

  • avatar

    Monster grille –> Monster sales

  • avatar

    If these stats were run for Europe I suspect that European brands would dominate with Nissan, Kia and Toyota being the non Euro brands in there.

    If I went back 5 years I think the Japanese brands would be doing much better. European brands have will come back strong in Europe.

  • avatar

    How long until Toyota surpasses GM in US market share. It now looks like a sure thing.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to wonder as well. It won’t be for a pretty long time since GM has 17% of the market and Toyota has 14%. If Toyota wouldn’t be so conservative and been more aggressive with its full size Tundra pickup trucks a few years ago, it would be closer to catching GM. No, I think Toyota has a much better chance catching and passing Ford for number 2 in the following years.

      But in all aspects, it is very impressive what Toyota has been able to accomplish since it arrived on our shores in the 1950s. In my opinion, Toyota has become “America’s car company” and is now (or has been for a while now)a member of the Big 3 (3 largest car companies in the US) behind GM and Ford. A lot of hard work and studying/listening have paid off to get this far.

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