Lessons From 2023’s Best-Selling New Cars, Trucks, and SUVs in America

The numbers are in: Americans bought a total of 15,549,907 new cars, trucks, and SUVs in 2023, according to analysts S&P Global Mobility. It wasn’t a banner year. Total sales were almost 2 million units off 2016’s record, and lagged well behind the boom decade of 1998 through 2007, where annual sales averaged almost 16.7 million vehicles. But for an industry still recovering from microchip shortages and disrupted by worker strikes, the 12 percent increase over 2022’s sales total was welcome, if not surprising.

And what did Americans buy? Overwhelmingly, SUVs. Cars accounted for about 3.2 million sales, while pickups totaled almost 2.75 million. That means more than 12.3 million new SUVs hit America’s roads last year, ranging from the $21,135 Hyundai Venue (29,327 sold) to the $348,000 Rolls-Royce Cullinan (949 sold).

Keep On Truckin’

To no-one’s surprise, the Ford F-Series pickup family was America’s best-selling vehicle for the 42nd year in a row, with more than 745,000 rolling out of Ford dealerships last year. Chevy’s Silverado (537,901 sold) and Ram (443,462 sold) claimed the number two and three spots on the best-seller’s list. Full-size pickups one-two-three: So far, so traditional. But the fourth best-selling vehicle in the U.S. in 2023, an electric-powered compact SUV, underscored the dramatic paradigm shift underway in the global auto industry.

The Y Axis

More than 392,000 Americans took home a Tesla Model Y last year. And Tesla’s disruption of the American vehicle market didn’t stop there. With sales topping 217,000 units, Tesla’s Model 3 electric sedan was the third best-selling car overall in America in 2023, behind Toyota’s soon-to-be-updated Camry sedan (288,365 sold) and Corolla (228,038 sold) and ahead of Honda’s Accord (199,456 sold) and Civic (199,337 sold).

Back in 1965, Chevy sold more than a million Impalas in a single year. In 2023 the sole four-door sedan in the Chevy lineup, the Malibu, attracted just 130,643 buyers. Stellantis sold just over 90,000 Dodge Chargers and Chrysler 300s, the latter of which has come to the end of a storied production run. Ford sold not a single sedan. In fact, apart from the limited-edition GT supercar, the last handful of which will be built this year, the only car in the Blue Oval’s lineup these days is the recently-updated Mustang muscle car, 49,746 of which were sold last year.

What Happened To Brand Loyalty?

In 1955 Detroit’s automakers accounted for 95 percent of the vehicles sold in America. That dominance in what was at the time the world’s largest and richest auto market underpinned a global supremacy that earned GM, Ford, and Chrysler the sobriquet ‘The Big Three’. In 2023, venerable Detroit brand names appeared on just 38 percent of the vehicles sold here, accounting for slightly more than 6 million cars, trucks, and SUVs.

Chrysler is no more, of course, having been merged first with Italy’s Fiat and then with France’s PSA Group to become what is now called Stellantis. And dramatic shifts in the buying habits and brand loyalties of American consumers means that, in terms of total worldwide sales, GM and Ford now both languish behind Toyota, Volkswagen Group, and Hyundai Motor, headed by MotorTrend’s 2023 Person of the Year, Euisun Chung.

How Did U.S. Automakers Do?

With total sales of 2,582,491 vehicles, GM finished 2023 as market leader in the U.S. But its 16.6 percent market share meant it actually sold about 2 million fewer vehicles in America than it did in 1955 when it commanded a market share of more than 50 percent and the Chevrolet Bel Air wasMotorTrend’s Car of the Year. Ford (1,961,935 vehicles sold) finished last year a distant third in its home territory, sandwiched between Toyota (2,225,767 sold) and Hyundai (1,653,724 sold).