While flashy events like the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit are used to highlight the new, the advanced and the beautiful, where it really counts — at least for automakers’ bottom lines — is ol’ reliable. Everyone wants that six-figure European roadster, but most people have to settle for the midsize and compact sedan, so that’s where carmakers have to put their best foot forward.
The list of the best-selling cars of all time — compiled by 24/7 Wall St. using several sources of data — reflects that sentiment. None of these cars reinvented the wheel, but they have (or had) it where it counts: a good mix of price and reliability.
Here’s a look at the top five selections from this list:
No. 1: Toyota Corolla (1966-present)
Sales: 37.5 million
This Toyota (NYSE:TM) mainstay frequently makes the annual best-selling list, offering fuel efficiency (currently at 35 MPG) and reliability in a plain — but rarely unappealing — design. The latest model exemplifies the Corolla’s affordability, selling for $16,130. They’ve never wowed with options or features, but Corollas last for next to forever.
No. 2: Ford F-Series (1948-present)
Sales: 35 million
The No. 2-selling car of all time was the best-selling car of 2011. And it wasn’t a car, either. The Ford (NYSE:F) F-Series truck line has for decades been one of the best examples of American quality and gritty work ethic. Ford has beaten the pickup crowd — including names like the General Motors (NYSE:GM) Sierra and the Honda (NYSE:HMC) Ridgeline — for decades thanks to its phenomenal range. While F-Series trucks come in larger, heavy-duty models, the base model (F-150) comes in at $22,990.
No. 3: Volkswagen Golf (1974-present)
Sales: 27.5 million
This car has plenty in common with the game — it’s not an adrenaline rush, but it’s at least a little more exciting than people give it credit for. This is Volkswagen’s (PINK:VLKAY) cheapest compact, with the current model coming in at $17,995. It also was branded as the Rabbit in its early days in the U.S., and while it doesn’t induce the same nostalgic feelings as the Beetle, it has sold more. Speaking of which …
No. 4: Volkswagen Beetle (1933-present)
Sales: 23.5 million
No. 2 in Volkswagen all-time sales, but No. 1 in your hearts. The Beetle has a beloved place in U.S. history, symbolizing the 1960s and leading Jim Douglas to fictional victory. Volkswagen then drew upon retro power with the “New Beetle” in the late ‘90s, which most recently has given way to a sleeker, newer Beetle model. But through it all, it has consistently depended on diesel — big in Europe, but a relative rarity in the U.S. The latest model sells for just a hair under $20,000, though for about 10 grand more, adrenaline junkies and put themselves into a turbo model.
No. 5: Ford Escort (1968-2000)
Sales: 20 million
The only member of the top five that went the way of the dodo. And while it enjoyed success in the U.S. during the 1980s, it had little to do with the bigger Escort success story, which was a much different car released in Europe. The big similarities were its small size and fuel efficiency. The last European edition sold for about $12,000 American, while its U.S. counterpart gave way in 2003 to the Ford Focus.