No one could have predicted the events of last year, and no one is sad to see the back of it. But how did the car industry fare in 2020? What cars remained popular, and what changed from 2019?
We’ll take a look at all of this and look ahead to what we’re excited about in 2021 as well. First, let’s take a look back at how the overall industry fared in 2020.
2020 in Review
The car industry suffered as much as any other. Several big factories closed as a result of Brexit uncertainties, while the financial impact of the pandemic meant that only 1.63 million Brits registered a new car in 2020. In comparison, we registered just under 2.2 million in 2019. That’s the worst year for the industry since 1992!
Overall, sales dropped 29.4%. In fact, only ‘MG’ and ‘assorted imports’ sold more units than in 2019, according to SMMT. As they don’t include Tesla separately on the list, we can assume the American company was included under ‘assorted imports’. And, as BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) registrations grew by a staggering 185.9% on 2019, it seems like a pretty good year for the American company.
It’s no surprise that sustainable fuels are on the up. In 2020, the UK Government brought the deadline banning petrol and diesel cars forward to 2030. This forced people to adapt much quicker than planned. That’s why petrol cars now only hold 55.4% of the market share, compared to 64.1% in 2019. Diesel vehicles were hardest hit, selling less than half as well as 2019 (already a decrease on previous years).
Finally, all our predictions for 2020 were, unsurprisingly, completely wrong. It wasn’t a good year for many new vehicles, and none of the models we thought would be popular make the list.
So, what cars were we buying the most of in 2020?
The Top 10 Most Popular Cars of 2020
We’ve used SMMT’s data on UK vehicle registrations, up to and including December 2020, which gives the following list.
1. Ford Fiesta – 49,174 units sold
Another year on top for the Fiesta – but not by much. In 2019, it was by far and away the UK’s most popular car, but it had much tougher competition in 2020. It even threatened to fall to number two on our list before a strong December pulled it clear.
We think that’s unlikely though. Everyone loves the Fiesta. It’s been a popular car for well over a decade, thanks to its sensible interior, cheap running costs and driveability. With a more powerful ST version available as well, it’s a fantastic car for anyone of any age. No wonder it’s still the UK’s favourite!
2. Vauxhall Corsa – 46,439
The Corsa made it interesting for the Fiesta. It was in the fight for top spot, but couldn’t quite close the gap in December. Releasing an affordable electric version early in 2020 definitely helped its performance. As a leading small car with great practicality, driveability and value, it’s no surprise that the Corsa had such a good year.
3. Volkswagen Golf – 43,109
The Golf may have lost out to the Corsa in 2020, but it remains in the top three popular cars. It’s always been fun to drive, spacious, reliable – the list of positives goes on. With a new Golf GTI on the way and a brand-new Mk8 Golf due in 2022, we can see this hot-hatch challenging for top spot next year. Leading car magazines have already given it glowing reviews – will the UK public?
4. Ford Focus – 39,372
Another solid year for the Focus, but it can’t close the gap to its baby brother, the Fiesta. With the same driveability, interior features and sporty RS version available, it’s hard to see why Ford don’t hold the top two positions on this list. It might be something to do with the Focus’ price tag though…
5. Mercedes-Benz A-Class – 37,608
Another familiar face on this list. The A-Class was the fifth most popular car in 2019, an improvement on eighth in 2018. For a high-spec, fairly expensive small car, it’s always going to be difficult to break into the top four – but that gap isn’t very big at all. Will the A-Class overtake the Focus in 2021?
6. Nissan Qashqai – 33,972
The Qashqai continues to surprise us. Once again, it’s the leading SUV and the sixth most popular car of the year. With tonnes of intelligent equipment on board, it’s easy to see why so many drivers choose the Qashqai. Will a new Hybrid model help it move further up the list in 2021?
7. MINI Hatchback – 31,233
We’ve always loved the MINI and, while it keeps getting bigger, it’s still a perfect family car! It comes with plenty of equipment and the feel-good Mini Electric must have helped sales this year. It took advantage of a poor performance for other vehicles, but could the MINI move up again in 2021?
8. Volkswagen Polo – 26,965
The Polo is such a good small car that it’s surprising to see it so low down the list, especially with the Golf all the way up in third. The MINI even managed to increase the gap in December. However, until Volkswagen adjust the £15,000 price tag, we can’t see it going any higher. There are plenty of small cars available for much less than the Polo, which eats into its market share!
9. Ford Puma – 26,294
The Puma is a small, mild-hybrid SUV which breaks into the top 10 this year. It might look a little bug-eyed, but it’s packed full of gadgets and, as the base model costs little more than £21,000, fairly affordable. With a sporty ST version available as well, we reckon that this nifty little SUV will feature in the top 10 for 2021 as well.
10. Volvo XC40 – 25,023
Another new entry rounds out the list. The XC40 snatched tenth spot from the BMW 1 Series at the death with a strong performance in December. Another SUV, this stylish and affordable vehicle combines Swedish sensibility with off-road ability. The UK loved the XC90, and clearly love the little brother as well. Volvo made the decision to focus on hybrid and electric vehicles earlier than most – none of their models come with petrol or diesel engines anymore!
Has Anything Changed From Last Year?
The top 10 is pretty similar to last year, with only two new entries. The Kia Sportage and Ford Kuga dropped out, the XC40 and the Puma taking their places. As a result, the Mini and the Polo moved up a place each. The only other change was the Corsa and the Golf switching places.
Perhaps the biggest difference this year is the number of registrations. While the Fiesta is the most popular car of 2020, 49,174 registrations would only have been good enough for seventh place in 2019!
What to Look Out For in 2021
Naturally, there are plenty of exciting cars launching in 2021. We’ve scoured the catalogues and found 10 that we’re very excited about. Unsurprisingly, most of them are fully electric or plug-in hybrid models!
Audi e-Tron GT – Spring 2021
Audi’s answer to the Porsche Taycan. A flagship vehicle of a range which Audi says will include 12 EVs by 2025. With an estimated 281 miles of range and an endorsement from Tony Stark in ‘Avengers Endgame’, Porsche may have some stiff competition this year.
Alfa Romeo Tonale – Spring 2021
As you’d expect from Alfa Romeo, the Tonale is a beautiful SUV. It also has a lot in common with a Jeep Renegade, so it’s tough as well as stylish. It will release with petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid versions.
BMW iX3 – Summer 2021
The latest member of BMW’s ‘i’ family, but the first SUV. It allegedly has 20% more power than the standard X3 and will cover 279 miles between charges. It seems that an electric SUV is the way to go this year…
Cupra El-Born – unconfirmed
If you haven’t heard of Cupra, you’re not alone. They’re the sporty brand of Seat, and this electric hot-hatch could set 2021 on fire. It boasts an estimated 310 miles of range, and you can add 161 miles of range in only 30 minutes!
Jaguar XJ – Late 2021
The original XJ was a massive flop, so here’s hoping a full electric saloon brings better success. It’s designed as a rival to the Tesla Model S – but delaying the launch until at least October isn’t the best start. It was due for release in early 2021.
Mercedes-Benz EQA – Early 2021
The first electric crossover. While it will have to go some to beat the current market leader (the Qashqai), 250 miles of range, 270 bhp and 0-60 in 5 seconds is certainly a good start. An outside chance of being one of the most popular cars in 2021?
Mercedes-Benz AMG One – unconfirmed
Mercedes’ answer to the Aston Martin Valkyrie, one of the craziest cars of 2020. It’s an electric flagship, with tonnes of F1 tech included as standard. Plus, it does 0-124 mph in less than 6 seconds, reaches a top speed of 217 mph and has a stunning 986 bhp.
Range Rover Crossover – Late 2021 (estimate)
This is the most radical Range Rover ever. It’s a high-end luxury car that couldn’t look more out of place in an off-road setting. It’s designed for comfort (like a Rolls Royce) and will come as a plug-in hybrid or fully electric model only.
Tesla Cybertruck – Late 2021
Remember the disastrous launch in 2019? Hopefully, they fix these issues before the Cybertruck arrives later this year. With a range of 500 miles and a max towing capacity of 6 tonnes, the Cybertruck should rival the great American pickup trucks. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to make it to the UK.
Tesla Model Y – Summer 2021
Tesla’s first foray into the SUV market is sure to cause a stir among some of the most popular cars in 2020. It’s going to be quick and, with an estimated range of 314 miles, offers strong competition to the established market.