Here Are The Winners And Losers Among The Top-Selling Vehicles In The Pandemic Era

Though industry-wide sales continue to struggle, to some it may be next to unbelievable that the new-car business has been able to survive at all with what it’s gone through since the pandemic upended the nation beginning in early 2020.

Factory closures and dealership shutdowns to help slow the spread of COVID-19 hammered sales in the spring of 2020. The business managed to right itself to some degree soon afterwards, however, as automakers and dealers came to embrace online sales and at-home deliveries. Unfortunately, even with the assembly lines back in business inventories never recovered, due to a litany of issues that include the ongoing world-wide shortage of semiconductors.

Consumer demand, however, only became stronger, which drove up new-vehicle transaction prices from around $39,000 before the pandemic struck, to now over $47,000, with the majority of models reportedly commanding in excess of their sticker prices. Stratospheric gas prices and higher interest rates are also giving the industry fits of late, boosting demand for previously neglected fuel-efficient models and sending buyers deeper in debt, with six- and seven-year loans and payments in excess of $1,000 becoming more commonplace.

We compared the lists of top-selling models from the first half of 2022 to the same period back in pre-pandemic 2019 to see how U.S. car shoppers’ preferences may have changed through all this upheaval. As it turns out, there are both winners and losers among the nation’s perennial favorites.

These were the top-selling models in the U.S. at mid-year 2019, ranked by sales volumes for the first two quarters of the year:

  1. Ford F-150: 448,398 units
  2. Ram 1500: 299,480 units
  3. Chevrolet Silverado 1500: 255,463 units
  4. Toyota RAV4: 200,610 units
  5. Honda CR-V: 176,944 units
  6. Toyota Camry: 176,008 units
  7. Nissan Rogue/Rogue Sport: 175,267 units
  8. Chevrolet Equinox: 174,157 units
  9. Honda Civic: 169,172 units
  10. Toyota Corolla: 138,747 units
  11. Ford Escape: 133,100 units
  12. Honda Accord: 129,435 units
  13. Jeep Grand Cherokee: 123,272 units
  14. Toyota Tacoma: 121,866 units
  15. Jeep Wrangler: 117,065 units
  16. Toyota Highlander: 111,183 units
  17. Nissan Sentra: 109,899 units
  18. Nissan Altima: 108,777 units
  19. Ford Explorer: 101,823 units
  20. GMC Sierra 1500: 97,403 units

Here’s how the top-20 list looks at the end of the second quarter of 2022, as the business continues to battle its own case of long COVID.

  1. Ford F-150: 299,345 units (-149,053 since 2009)
  2. Chevrolet Silverado 1500: 259,516 units (+4,053)
  3. Ram 1500: 244,983 units (-54,497)
  4. Toyota RAV4: 200,885 units (+275)
  5. Toyota Camry: 135,925 units (-40,083)
  6. Jeep Grand Cherokee: 134,369 units (+11,097)
  7. GMC Sierra 1500: 118,938 units (+21,535)
  8. Toyota Highlander: 117,403 units (+6,220)
  9. Toyota Corolla: 116,832 units (-21,915)
  10. Chevrolet Equinox: 116,678 units (-57,479)
  11. Honda CR-V: 116,602 units (-60,342)
  12. Toyota Tacoma: 108,648 units (-13,218)
  13. Tesla Model Y: 108,000 (estimated) units (NA)
  14. Ford Explorer: 102,917 units (+1,094)
  15. Jeep Wrangler: 99,497 units (-17,568)
  16. Tesla Model 3 (estimated) 90,100 units (NA)
  17. Nissan Rogue/Rogue Sport: 87,675 units (-87,592)
  18. Hyundai Tucson: 84,071 units (+18,117)
  19. Mazda CX-5: 81,804 units (+7,417)
  20. Honda Accord: 80,422 units (-49,013)

It’s no surprise that the full-size Ford F-150 continues to hold down the number one position in terms of U.S. new-vehicle sales, but it now leads its closest rivals, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and Ram 1500, by a whisker instead of several lengths. The F-150’s production-hampered sales have dropped by 17.3 percent so far this year and are a third less than they were prior to the pandemic, which makes it the biggest loser among the top sellers. The Ram and Chevrolet continue to slug it out for second-banana status, with Silverado sales figures rising by a nominal amount, and the Ram 1500 headed in the other direction.

The biggest gainer here is the Silverado’s corporate cousin, the GMC Sierra 1500. It climbed from the number 20 spot in 2019 to number seven at mid-2022, based on a sales boost of around 21,500 units. If a Chevy dealer didn’t have in stock what a given truck buyer wanted, it’s possible the nearest GMC store did.

Of note, with the much-ballyhooed return of midsize—and most recently compact—pickup trucks in recent years, the only non-full-size model among the industry’s 20 most popular vehicles remains the Toyota Tacoma, which is perennially a favorite among young and active buyers, which stepped up from 14th to 12th place.

As proof of the market’s seismic shift away from sedans, only four passenger cars remain among the 20 most popular models in the U.S., which is down from six in 2019. Then as now, they’re led by the Toyota Camry and Corolla, and the Honda Civic, but the Nissan Sentra and Altima are now nowhere to be found among the top-20 sellers. What’s more, the Honda Accord, which had traditionally gone to-to-toe with the Camry, has nearly fallen off the chart, dropping to the number 20 position, with sales that are down by 30 percent since 2019.

It should come as no surprise that as gas prices continue to rise, so too does demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles, with the Tesla Model Y SUV and Model 3 sedan making hay while the sun shines near the top of the 2022 sales chart. (Since Tesla only issues global sales figures, its estimated U.S. numbers comes from estimates provided by Automotive News.)

The Toyota RAV4 compact crossover SUV remains steadfastly in the number-four spot with a slight gain, though it’s nearest rival, the Honda CR-V, fell from fifth to 11th place and lost more than 60,000 sales over the first six months of the year, compared to pre-pandemic times.

Though its volume dropped by over 17,000 units since the first half of 2019, the Jeep Wrangler SUV managed to maintain the 15th position. It looks like its lost sales went to its Gladiator pickup truck spin-off, at nearly 18,000 units delivered so far this year. It’s also likely affected by the debut of what is now its closest competitor, the Ford Bronco at 54,842 delivered so far in 2022.

Jeep Grand Cherokee sales, on the other hand have become stronger over the past three years, jumping from 13th to sixth place on the chart, helped we’d guess by a recent redesign and the addition of a three-row variant. The Toyota Highlander crossover SUV has likewise gained traction in the face of adversity, and is now the eighth top seller, compared to sitting at number 13 in 2009.

Even with Nissan combining sales figures for the compact Rogue crossover SUV and its smaller sibling, the Rogue Sport, those two lost close to 52 percent of their sales so far this year (and around half since mid-year 2009), dropping its position to 17th place. Buyers are obviously shopping elsewhere in this product-rich segment, with the Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5 now coming in at 18th and 19th place, respectively.

What will the second half of 2022 look like? The current state of affairs isn’t likely to self-correct itself any time soon, with some analysts predicting the relative lack of cars, trucks, and SUVs on dealers’ lots to continue well into next year. A few believe automakers will continue to keep inventories thin and prices high even as supply chain problems subside, to favor profitability over market share. Gas prices and interest rates will remain wild cards, and there’s the distinct possibility that consumers feeling inflation’s pinch will either shop for less costly models, or sit the market out altogether. As always, stay tuned.


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