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The Toyota Corolla has been around since 1966. And after 55 years, Toyota just sold its 50 millionth model. To put that in perspective, the Ford F-Series might be the world’s best-selling truck, they’ve only sold about 40 million of them in their 73-year run. So lets look back at how the Corolla grew to such popularity, and how it maintains a global best-seller.

First Generation Toyota Corolla Photo
First Generation Toyota Corolla | Toyota

The Toyota Corolla’s humble beginnings in America

The Toyota Corolla debuted in 1966, but didn’t make its way to America until 1968. And while it wasn’t the first Toyota to come to the states, it was the first massively successful one (obviously). Built around the idea that luxury features, such as a radio and center console, could come at a reasonable price. It cost just $1,700 back then, or about $14,000 today, and boasted Toyota comfort and reliability.

The engine was a 1.1L four-cylinder engine, and the only transmission available was a four-speed manual. Though both those options were considered luxuries at the time too, at least in Japan. You see, most Japanese automakers made 1.0L engines, so a 1.1L engine had an air of superiority. And the four-speed manual gave this 60 horsepower sedan a sportier feel, even if 0-60 took around 12 seconds.

But the Corolla rapidly grew in popularity, as by its second generation, the Corolla became the second best-selling car in the world.

A brief overlook at the Corolla’s generations and achievements

Third Generation, Sixth Generation, and Eleventh Generation Toyota Corollas
Third Generation (Bottom Left), Sixth Generation (Bottom Right), and Eleventh Generation (Top) Toyota Corollas | Toyota

The oil crisis and emissions regulations of the 70s gave small cars, like the Toyota Corolla, the edge against large American land yachts. And the Toyota Corolla capitalized on this, with the second generation becoming the second best-selling car in the world.

And as the years went on, Toyota kept adding luxury features to their affordable car. For the fourth generation, first released in 1980, the Corolla featured a rudimentary “seat memory.” It’s not electronic like the ones today, but could slide and return to the same predetermined angle.

And as the luxuries got better, so too did the engines. The fifth-generation Toyota Corolla AE86 became an infamous drift legend, partly thanks to its incredible styling, and partly due to the dual overhead cam 1.6L engine. It was a car born to go sideways, and was rather good at it.

The appeal of being a decently sporty, yet well-equipped car is universal, and in 1997, the Toyota Corolla became the best-selling car in the world. To celebrate, the brand did what it does best: stuff their commuter car with high-end features, and sell it at a reasonable $13,000 (about $22,000 today). And ever since then, the Toyota Corolla has reigned supreme.

A blue 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback driving down an empty road, the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback is one of the least reliable Toyota models
2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback | Toyota

In 2017, during the 11th generation of the Corolla, Toyota fitted it with a Safety Sense package as standard. This included lane departure alert with steering assists, radar-guided cruise control, and automatic high beams. As standard, in 2017!

And the idea of stuffing the best features into their simple commuter car didn’t change for the most recent 12th generation. Now available with a hybrid powertrain, the Corolla can crack 50 mpg combined while still keeping you safe and comfortable. Though, if you’re looking for a sportier trim, the Corolla GT-S comes with a 2.0L 169 horsepower engine, and even that still manages a combined 35 mpg.

In other words, the Corolla has blended the best of both worlds since 1966. It’s packed with fancy features, and it’s still affordable. They’re fun to drive, and they’re economical for daily urban use. And while some would argue they see too many of them on the road, there’s a reason people keep on buying them.


5 Reasons the Toyota Corolla is Still the Most Sold Car on Earth