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5 March 2019

The best-selling cars you've never heard of

By Matt CampbellMatt Campbell
A people mover sold only with a five-speed manual? Interesting...

If someone asked you what cars you know, what auto brands you can identify with, and which models get your motor running, there’s a good chance you might rattle off some well known nameplates. 

The BMW 3 Series, perhaps? Holden Commodore? Ford Falcon? Subaru WRX? Hey, there are no wrong answers here. 

Well, that is unless you’re talking about the best selling cars in the world.

The ranks are still topped by the Ford F Series, which in 2018 tallied a ridiculous 1,076,153 sales according to Jato. That equates to two F trucks sold every minute of every hour of every day of last year.

But there are some other models you may never have heard of. Consider this a crash-course in car sales for 2018.

VW Magotan - 660,453 sales

Underneath the skin, the Magotan is essentially a VW Passat. Underneath the skin, the Magotan is essentially a VW Passat.

The Magotan - affectionately known forthwith in the Oversteer offices as the Maggot - is made in China, for China, as part of a joint venture between Volkswagen and FAW (First Automotive Works). 

If this large sedan looks uncannily familiar, that’s because it’s essentially a VW Passat, but with some specific elements for the Chinese market.

Note: the sales total here is for both Passat (European and North American versions) and Magotan. The latter scored 228,990 sales in China in 2018.

Wuling Hongguang - 545,928 sales

The Wuling brand is the product of a joint venture between General Motors, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and Wuling. The Wuling brand is the product of a joint venture between General Motors, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and Wuling.

What’s even more amazing than the name of this vehicle is that it’s a family MPV that is only sold with a five-speed manual transmission. 

Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s also the S1 model, which is more upmarket and includes an array of drivetrains, and there’s a new S3 model that looks more like an SUV than an MPV.

The Wuling brand is the product of a joint venture between General Motors, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and Wuling. 

Nissan Sylphy Classic - 496,141 sales

The Nissan Sylphy Classic is hugely popular in China, with 481,216 units moved in 2018. The Nissan Sylphy Classic is hugely popular in China, with 481,216 units moved in 2018.

The Nissan Sylphy Classic is sold in other markets as the Nissan Almera. But it’s the Chinese version that sells in huge numbers, clearly because of its STD-like moniker.

There are three versions of the joint-venture NIssaDongfeng-Nissan product to choose from - the XE, the XE+ Zhilian Leading Edition or the XE+ Zhilian Deluxe Edition. All have 1.6-litre engines and the choice of a five-speed manual or CVT auto

It was hugely popular in China, with 481,216 units moved in 2018 - that’s for the Sylphy, which is also a Maxima clone, and the older-gen, cheaper Classic version.

VW Sagitar - 470,309 sales

Tthe Jetta/Bora/Sagitar/Vento share some tooling with the Pyeonghwa Zunma 1606 - a model made and sold specifically in North Korea. (image credit: gosee.us) Tthe Jetta/Bora/Sagitar/Vento share some tooling with the Pyeonghwa Zunma 1606 - a model made and sold specifically in North Korea. (image credit: gosee.us)

The name jokes are getting old. But this China-centric nameplate is actually a VW Jetta sedan, and is the figure above also covers that nameplate along with the Bora and Vento models that share a lot with the Sagitar.

The Sagitar is based on the US-market Jetta, and was even offered with a range-topping GLI version that has a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine with 150kW and 280Nm and a six-speed dual-clutch auto transmission. 

Of the combined 470,309 sales across the multiple badges, the Sagitar accounted for 309,902 units. It appears the model has been removed from the brand’s Chinese site, but will likely pop up under the new Jetta brand launched just a few weeks ago.

Interesting thing to note: the Jetta/Bora/Sagitar/Vento also shares some tooling with the Pyeonghwa Zunma 1606 - a model made and sold specifically in North Korea. 

VW Lavida - 468,792 sales

The new version of the Lavida is loosely considered a Chinese-market version of the Arteon. The new version of the Lavida is loosely considered a Chinese-market version of the Arteon.

Another VW you’ve never heard of, presumably? 

The new version of the Lavida is loosely considered a Chinese-market version of the Arteon - it’s available as a liftback and wagon, and looks pretty darn plush. It’s built on the VW modular architecture and comes with the choice of a 1.5-litre non-turbo or a 1.4L TSI under the bonnet. 

That sales number is solely for China, and I’ve found an even higher figure at a site called carsalesbase, which states the Lavida accounted for 473,564 units in its home market last year.

Have you heard of any of these vehicles?