When Ford introduced the Model T back in 1908 – famously available in any colour you wanted, just so long as it was black – cars were still a rarity, with horse-drawn carriages being the preferred method of transport for most.
Yet between the launch of the vehicle and the end of production in 1927, Ford sold almost 17 million Model Ts. More than 100 years later, the car retains a top 10 ranking in the list of the best-selling cars of all time. Big sales, however, do not necessarily mean big earnings.
For car manufacturers to extract the maximum profit from a vehicle, it needs to combine a high price with a large production volume and lengthy production run. Cars that sell in large numbers tend to do so because they are both cheap to buy and relatively cheap to run, returning far lower quotes on car insurance comparison sites like moneysupermarket.com
The Toyota Corolla may be the best-selling car ever, with more than 37 million units produced, but its relatively low price means it is less of a cash cow than many others. By this measure, the most profitable vehicle ever is the Ford F-Series pick-up truck, a true workhorse which has run up sales of 35 million since its introduction in 1948. But the real money comes from vehicles aimed the luxury end of the market.
The Mercedes S-Class has been around in one form or another ever since 1954 and is very much the flagship vehicle of the Mercedes Benz range. Its smaller stablemate, the E-Class, goes back even further, with its first predecessor appearing in 1936.
Always packed with luxury feature and state-of-the-art innovations, both vehicles appear on the list of the most profitable vehicles of all time, according to a study carried out by Bernstein Research, a leading analysis firm which measured sales of vehicles since 1990.
Rival German luxury-car manufacturer BMW occupies the two places between the S and the E class with its 5-Series and 3-Series vehicles, while the number five spot on the list is taken by the Lexus RX SUV, another high-end luxury product with a price point to match.
Adjusting for inflation and looking at overall sales figures, less luxurious vehicles make the list instead, headed up by the Corolla and the F-Series.
Since its introduction in 1974, the VW Golf has sold around 27.5 million units, undoubtedly making a healthy contribution towards the profits of its manufacturing company. The venerable Beetle, recently relaunched for a new generation, has amassed total sales of 23.3 million. With sales of 20 million, the Ford Escort is the only vehicle on the list that is no longer in production.