Top-selling cars for 2020 (and the biggest losers)

A red Toyota Hilux on a hill

Tim Nicholson

Posted February 03, 2021

New-car sales slumped in 2020 but utes, Chinese models and EVs bucked the trend.

Australian new-car sales bounced back in the last couple of months of 2020 after a dismal year, as buyer confidence recovered.  

COVID-19 restrictions hit vehicle sales hard from April onwards and by mid-year, 2020 was shaping up as the worst year for automotive sales in decades. But as restrictions eased and consumers started diverting overseas holiday savings into buying a new car, sales began to rebound – in fact December sales figures were 13.5 per cent higher than in 2019. 

For the full year, new vehicle sales totalled just 916,968, almost 14 per cent lower than in 2019 and the lowest annual figure since 2003. Unsurprisingly, given the severity of the state’s COVID restrictions, Victorian sales suffered most, dropping more than 25 per cent year on year.


In this article

The top models

Toyota domination

The winners

The losers

Australia’s top models

For the fifth consecutive year, the best-selling model in Australia in 2020 was the Toyota HiLux ute, with 45,176 new car registrations, followed by the locally developed Ford Ranger ute which sold 40,973 units, just 13 more than in 2019.

Meanwhile sales of Toyota’s popular RAV4 jumped 59 per cent, overtaking Mazda’s CX-5 as Australia’s top-selling SUV and emerging as Australia’s third-most popular new car in 2020. Toyota’s Corolla small hatch and sedan was the most popular non-SUV or ute in 2020, and the fourth-most popular model overall. The Mazda CX-5 rounded out the top five. 

Completing the top 10 were Hyundai’s i30 hatch in sixth, the Mitsubishi Triton ute, the perennially popular Toyota Prado four-wheel-drive wagon, the compact Kia Cerato, and in 10th place, Hyundai’s Tucson medium SUV.  

Toyota was the mot popular manufacturer for the 18th year in a row, with the RAV4 overtaking Mazda's CX5 as the top-selling SUV, and the Corolla the most popular non-SUV.
Toyota was the mot popular manufacturer for the 18th year in a row, with the RAV4 overtaking Mazda's CX5 as the top-selling SUV, and the Corolla the most popular non-SUV.

Toyota dominates... again

Of the 50 manufacturers selling cars on the Australian market, Toyota was number one by a long shot. The Japanese giant recorded its 18th consecutive year as Australia’s most popular automotive brand – 22.3 per cent of all vehicles sold in Australia last year had a Toyota badge. It topped seven vehicle categories, and close to a quarter of all Toyotas sold were electric hybrid models. 

Toyota sales more than doubled those of second-placed Mazda, whose sales slumped 12 per cent, despite introducing the CX-30 small SUV to its line-up at the start of 2020. Hyundai retained its third placing despite a dramatic 24.7 per cent sales dip – not helped by the loss of the popular Accent hatch from its line-up. 

Ford overtook Mitsubishi as the fourth-most popular car brand in 2020, thanks largely to the popularity of its Ranger ute, which accounted for 69 per cent of all Ford sales. At the same time, the dwindling popularity of Mitsubishi’s Triton ute helped drag down the Japanese manufacturer’s sales by almost 30 per cent. 

The Kia Cerato (above) and Mazda CX-5 made the top-10 list of Australia’s best-selling cars in 2020.
The Kia Cerato and Mazda CX-5 (above) made the top-10 list of Australia’s best-selling cars in 2020.

The winners

Australia’s love affair with SUVs continued apace last year, with high-riding wagons making up 49.6 per cent of overall sales, 4 per cent more than in 2019. This came at the expense of traditional passenger vehicles (sedans, wagons, hatchbacks, MPVs) which now make up just 24.2 per cent of all sales. It’s a seismic shift in consumer preferences since 2010 when passenger cars accounted for 57 per cent of the market, and SUVs just 23 per cent. 

Light commercial vehicles also sold well last year as did dual-cab utes. Although total sales of 4x4 utes were down, they increased their share of the shrinking market, and were the second-most popular vehicle type in 2020 behind medium SUVs. Sales of mid-size commercial vans grew by 16 per cent, largely due to the increase in delivery services across the country during lockdowns.  

Australians are slowly warming to electrified vehicles, with sales of battery electric models growing by 16 per cent off a low base, while sales of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles increased by 18 per cent. Hybrid sales, led largely by market leader Toyota, soared by 94 per cent in 2020. This appeared to come at the expense of diesel and petrol vehicles which declined by 12.5 and 20 per cent respectively. Watch that trend grow this year as brands like Kia, Hyundai, Mazda, Nissan and Toyota introduce new hybrid models.  

Chinese manufacturers continued their upward trajectory in 2020. Of the 13 brands that recorded sales increases in 2020, four were from China –  MG Motor, LDV, Haval and Great Wall.   

Among other brands to do well in a grim year, Korea’s SsangYong recorded 68.4 per cent sales growth thanks to the success of its Musso ute and Korando SUV, while American pick-up truck specialist RAM lifted by 16 per cent. 

Red Holden SUV driving through mud

Holden was the biggest loser in 2020 after General Motors pulled the pin on the iconic Aussie brand. 

The losers

The biggest loser last year was, unsurprisingly, Holden. Parent company General Motors pulled the pin on the Australian brand in early 2020 after years of sales declines. Although there are still some Holdens at dealers, sales dropped by 61 per cent in 2020. 

French brands fared poorly too. Renault’s sales dropped 20 per cent, Peugeot was 13 per cent lower and Citroen sales almost halved. Incredibly, Ferrari sold more cars here in 2020 than Citroen, despite suffering a 20 per cent drop in sales, in line with poor performance across the supercar and ultra-luxury category. 

Of the mainstream brands, Honda had the biggest slide, declining by 34 per cent after the company discontinued its City light sedan. Jaguar had the most dramatic decline among premium brands, sliding by 41.7 per cent.