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USA 1981: Chevy Chevette or Oldsmobile Cutlass #1, VW Rabbit up to #4

VW Rabbit

Once again we have a discrepancy in the #1 vehicle in the U.S. for 1981: Car and Driver places the Oldsmobile Cutlass in the lead with 454.188 sales (-3%) while other records don’t even have that nameplate in the Top 10 and instead crown the Chevrolet Chevette with 346.307 units sold (-7%). This is frustrating because it’s the very last year a passenger car would dominate the models ranking in the USA.

Chevrolet Chevette

The Chevrolet Citation, 1980’s #1 (or was it the Oldsmobile Cutlass?) is down 20% to #2. Excellent performance of the Ford Escort, landing directly in third position for its first full year of sales in the country with just under 285.000 units. But this year’s best performer is the VW Rabbit, up 59% and 6 spots on 1980 to a fantastic 4th place. The Toyota Corolla is also on the up, to a best-ever 5th position, albeit with declining sales at 241,639 units (-6%). There are two other newcomers in the Top 10: the Buick Skylark at #8 with 200,350 sales and the Plymouth Reliant at #9 with 189,330 units.

Full 1981 Top 10 Passenger Car models ranking below.

USA 1981 (Passenger Cars):

1Chevrolet Chevette346,307-7%373,9882
2Chevrolet Citation300,184-20%374,7061
3Ford Escort284,907new0    –
4VW Rabbit282,24059%177,11810
5Toyota Corolla241,639-6%257,3156
6Chevrolet Malibu211,130-21%267,7324
7Buick Regal208,3295%199,2079
8Buick Skylark200,350n/an/an/a
9Plymouth Reliant196,997n/an/an/a
10Ford Fairmont189,330-34%285,2723

Source: Manufacturers, many thanks to Adam for sharing the data.

This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. @Jason

    Hi Jason,

    Thanks very much for your comment and apologies for the late response. You seem to have exhaustive access to historical car sales data for the US, and I would be very interested in knowing more about what you have access to. Would you mind letting me know? I’d love to make my site much more complete and historical US data is one of the biggest holes in my data…

    Would love to hear from you.
    Thanks very much Jason.


  2. According to Polk … 1981 sales : Cutlass-155,088 4 door model, Cutlass Supreme- 263,425, Cutlass Wagon- 30,598 ,,,,, all RWD models … as the Cutlass Ciera FWD wasn’t yet available….. so the Cutlass model was the Best Selling Car in 1981 … add up the numbers and it totals over 400k units in 1981 !!!!!! WOW. Also the Regal/ Regal Century and Wagon = 332,000 units sold . Rember the RWD Regal was a 2 door model and the Century Regal is a 4 door model. VW Rabbit figures include the total VW sales in 1981… VW made many models in 1981 , while the Rabbit was the best selling vw, it did’nt sell at the numbers reported. Escort sales didn’t include the Escort EXP , a 2 door sporty car , which should be added to the Escort sales …. EXP sales =51,500 sales.

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