Top 10 Most Popular Cars in California in 2023 (With Pictures)
California is well-known as one of the more progressive states in the country, and you don’t have to look any further than its car market to see why it earns the reputation.
Electric cars have overtaken the market in the Golden State. While America stands by its Ford F-Series, as it has dutifully for four straight decades, Californians are moving towards the industry’s electric-driven future.
California drivers have traditionally been early adopters of electric cars, specifically Teslas. And given the relative cost of gas in the state, there’s plenty of reason to avoid gas-hungry trucks and SUVs even if you aren’t committed to an EV.
If it isn’t a Tesla, it seems like another high-mpg model is winning over customers. Learn how west coast residents are choosing to hit the road with this rundown of the best-selling cars in California.
The Best-Selling Cars in California
1. Tesla Model Y
|2021 Category Market Share:||43.8|
California is the nation’s leader in zero-emission vehicle ownership. The state is the first to pass the 1 million mark in plug-in electric vehicle sales and contains more than 40% of the country’s total ZEVs on the road.
At the head of it all is Tesla, representing the perfect blend of luxury, trendiness, and forward-looking design that touches on everything the average Californian wants (and can afford). With the Tesla Model Y, they can reclaim the comfort and performance benefits of an SUV without the fuel demands.
That might explain why Tesla’s Model Y has been climbing the leaderboards for several years. It hit the ground running upon its release to the public in 2020, immediately stealing significant market share from the Mercedes GLC and Lexus NX.
While it topped the luxury compact SUV market that year, the Model Y only had a 22.8% market share. But only a year later, it took a 43.8% market share. In 2022, it holds a 54.2% share, enough to make it five times more popular than the next highest seller in the class.
2. Tesla Model 3
|2021 Category Market Share:||47.0|
As the Model Y leads the best-selling cars in California, the Model 3 follows close behind. The near-luxury and relatively value-priced sedan controls the lion’s share of its category, with 2022 numbers showing a market share of over 60%, the only double-digit share of any model in its class. The next best-seller in the group was the Lexus ES, boasting a paltry 8% share.
Despite production problems stunting growth in the recently revamped Model X line, Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y have done well enough to carry the brand to an overall market share of over 10%. That bumped it from the number five brand in the state in 2021 to number two behind Toyota.
3. Toyota RAV4
|2021 Category Market Share:||23.6|
The RAV4 continued its modest control over its category for another year without any competition from Tesla. Its versatility, entertainment and safety features, and overall comfort make Toyota’s compact SUV popular in California and across the country.
With a slew of hybrid options available, the RAV4 is a wallet-friendly alternative to all-electric vehicles while offering much-needed relief at the pump. California consumers have recognized the value, as it has been gaining market share quietly for the last several years, jumping from a 17.7% share in 2018 to a 25.7% share in 2022.
Good news for the line also arrived with the CARB-approved rule to move to only zero-emission vehicles by 2035. The state will allow plug-in hybrid electric vehicle sales after the deadline, meaning Toyota could keep its PHEV Prime models, including the RAV4, relevant for the foreseeable future.
4. Toyota Camry
|2021 Category Market Share:||39.5|
Even as everyone took a step back in volume, the Camry maintained its steadily increasing hold on the mid-size market. It lost roughly 7,000 units in sales from the year prior, but its market share jumped three points to 34.7%.
In 2022, the Camry controls over 40% of sales in its category despite inventory issues shared with the Corolla. That’s nearly 15% more than its closest competitor, the Honda Accord. Its steady rise aligns with a rapid surge in hybrid sales in the state since 2018.
5. Toyota Corolla
|2021 Category Market Share:||22.2|
The Corolla is a perennial favorite in California and the U.S. As with many Toyotas, it ranks well in safety and reliability, and although its hybrid options are slim, it has exceptional fuel economy for an all-gas model.
Like its larger cousin, the Camry, the Toyota Corolla is gaining steam in its category, stealing market share and the top spot in 2022. It took a second-place finish at the end of 2021, as it had for several years prior.
Among compacts, the Corolla reigns supreme, but it doesn’t change the fact that California drivers are moving to SUVs and crossovers when possible. From 2018 to 2021, the Corolla’s market share jumped nearly 8%, but the volume only increased by a few hundred models. Numbers declined in several sedan categories, while SUV sales saw a significant uptick.
6. Chevrolet Silverado
|2021 Category Market Share:||27.4|
The Chevy Silverado has always played second fiddle to America’s favorite vehicle, the F-Series, in the full-size pickup category. But in 2022, it overtook Ford to gain the top spot in California, with nearly 2,000 more sales entering July.
Unfortunately, the Silverado’s time at the top isn’t likely the start of a new trend. The chip shortage hit Ford hard. While fuel economy and a blooming EV market may spur an overall move from full-size pickups, interest remains firm among truck buyers, and Ford will likely reclaim its spot as California’s best-selling truck once it can start meeting demand.
7. Ford F-Series
|2021 Category Market Share:||28.7|
Ford won 2021 by just over 2,000 units, part of a downward trend that ended in the Silverado beating the F-Series as 2022 unfolded. There were 46,817 F-Series sales in 2021. That was a substantial decrease from the 50,751 units the year before, which was good for a 2.5% drop in market share.
Fortunately, Ford is poised for future success in a way even Tesla can’t match. The F-150 Lightning may only represent the tiniest fraction of its sales, but in the relatively young EV pickup market, it’s crushing the competition in consumer and commercial fleet segments.
With the lineup’s lasting popularity, Ford hopes the Lightning can eventually compete with not only the Cybertruck (whenever that arrives) but also Tesla’s top-selling Model Y and Model 3.
8. Honda Accord
|2021 Category Market Share:||28.6|
While the Camry was shooting up the boards, the Accord’s market share more or less remained flat to maintain a second-place spot in 2021, which continued into 2022.
The pace for 2022 wasn’t spectacular, as Honda’s mid-size sedan is only managing 25.9% of the category’s share, a nearly 3% drop from the prior year and the lowest showing in the past five. While the Accord was once a legitimate rival to the Camry in California, it seems Toyota took Ford’s customers left in the lurch from the 2020 Fusion discontinuation to cement its position in the category.
9. Honda Civic
|2021 Category Market Share:||27.1|
Civic sales have descended over the past several years and finally dropped from the top spot in 2022. It crushed the Corolla in 2021, beating the Toyota by nearly 11,000 cars. But that was still more than 20,000 less than it sold only three years earlier.
Slow and steady wins the race, and the Corolla’s patient pace of roughly 45,000–50,000 annual registrations is a rare mark of consistency in a category with ever-decreasing sales. Following an all-new 2022 redesign, the Civic could emerge victorious once again when the supply chain rights itself.
10. Toyota Tacoma
|2021 Category Market Share||53.3|
Toyota firmly controls numerous categories but runs away with the mid-size pickup category like no other. It ended 2021 holding more than half of the market share, while the Ford Ranger took a distant second with only a 14.3% share.
Despite the impressive showing, 2021 was still the Tacoma’s worst year in recent memory. It controlled an astonishing 63.5% share in 2018 but has since been declining in popularity. With the introduction of the competitive Ford Maverick, the Tacoma took another dip to start 2022, enjoying only a 42.6% market share.
A lot has to happen before the mass adoption of ZEVs in 2035. Infrastructure updates need to make charging stations as common as gas pumps, and the question of cost and availability still leaves lower-income individuals without clear options. With the ridiculous growth we’ve seen from the best-selling cars in California, it seems residents are nevertheless eager to make the upgrade.
Featured Image Credit: ArtisticOperations, Pixabay