The American and European car markets are roughly the same size, give or take two million units. However, there are several differences between vehicles popular in, and made for, the United States, and Europe.
The most obvious distinction lies in the different brands which are available to buyers.
French cars, for example, have never done well in America and French manufacturers no longer bother with us. Citroën and Renault (which owns Japanese Nissan) abandoned the U.S. market in the '80s; and Peugeot followed in 1992. Although the French occasionally speak of returning to America, this has yet to happen.
One long-absent marque which is fairly well-regarded in Europe, and which has recently returned to the United States, is Italian Alfa Romeo. Last sold in America in 1994, Alfa Romeo last year followed its Fiat parent back to the United States. Fiat, which now owns Chrysler, returned in 2011 after a quarter century; but the Fiat brand, being focused on small cars, has yet to achieve Stateside success.
At the same time, American brands do not do well in Europe; leaving aside Ford, which has historic engineering roots in Europe and indeed its own European operations, and with the notable exception of Jeep. Chrysler, Dodge, and Chevrolet all abandoned their efforts on the continent in the past decade.
It must be said that most Chevy cars sold in Europe were not in fact American, but Korean-designed and Korean-built compacts and subcompacts. Cadillac generally does very poorly in Europe, while neither its junior Buick stablemate nor its Lincoln counterpart have in the postwar era ever bothered to try.
None of the "Big Three" - not General Motors, nor Ford, nor Fiat-Chrysler - make their immensely popular pick-up trucks available in Europe. Ford's F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in America for more than three decades. Full-size pick-up trucks from each of the "Big Three" figure among America's top-10 vehicles each year, and in 2016 accounted for almost two million sales.
Fifteen years ago, when fuel prices were lower, large sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) such as the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee were also popular in America. Today, Americans still like sport-utility vehicles, but today's SUVs are more car-like and more efficient than their predecessors; and rising fuel costs have driven sales of smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, including smaller SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, and Chevrolet Equinox.
America's best-selling cars are the Japanese Toyota Camry and Corolla, Honda Civic and Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Sentra, and Korean Hyundai Elantra and Sonata. Half of the cars on this list are specifically built for the American market and are rarely found elsewhere in the world.
Compare these cars to Europe's best sellers, which in 2016 were the German Volkswagen Golf and Polo, French Renault Clio, Anglo-German Ford Fiesta, German Opel Corsa, Japanese Nissan Qashqai (a crossover), Czech Škoda Octavia, Opel Astra, Peugeot 208, and Volkswagen Passat. Not only are most of the cars in this Top-10 list hatchbacks (versus the sedans that Americans prefer), but they are also much smaller. Whereas Europeans are happy to use the Golf as a family car, this "compact" class is not large enough for the American family.
Indeed, the stereotype is that pick-up trucks aside, Americans like large, comfortable sedans with equipment which makes highway driving easy; whereas Europeans opt for smaller, more fuel-efficient, more practical hatchbacks which are nimbler in town and on winding roads.
Fuel prices and steeper European taxes on both fuel and emissions certainly bear a fair degree of responsibility.
The Camry, Accord, Altima, Fusion, and Malibu are all larger than the Golf, and midrange versions have larger engines than a midrange Golf. Due to differences in size and weight, this does not always make them faster. However, they are better suited to relaxed cruising and lower American speed limits, and to the preference of American drivers for automatic transmissions and power at lower engine revolutions.
Europe's best sellers tend to be "stiffer." They are more responsive, versus the American group of cars, which is tuned more for comfort and for highway driving at relatively lower speeds. With this in mind, it is particularly interesting to note that two of the cars in America's top-10 - the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic - are not quite the same in America and in Europe.
Although the differences can amount to mere tweaks - and though the hatchback Civic, for the past few years sold only in Europe, is now available Stateside - that Toyota and Honda sometimes consider this effort worthwhile is perhaps the best illustration of the differences between these two markets.