At the end of the day, every mass-market automaker is nothing more than a company looking for profits. And while you can have a great-looking vehicle that performs well and draws critical acclaim, but if it doesn't sell and it doesn't have decent margins, it doesn't do the company much good. So when it comes down to pure profit, what automobiles are the biggest cash cows?

That's what analyst Max Warbuton aimed to find out. With the help of his team at Bernstein Research, Warbuton looked at the automotive population and created this list of the twelve best money-makers since 1990. According to Automotive News, Warbuton said the top twelve cars and trucks all combine "high prices, huge volume and long periods of production that spread development costs over a long period." While we might quibble that not all of the entries are high in price, the volume side of Warburton's equation makes a lot of sense, especially considering that the Number One most profitable vehicle of all time is – glance back up at the lead image once more – the Ford F-Series.

F-150 aside, all of the American full-size pickups did particularly well in this study, with the Ram 1500 and General Motors twins (Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra) filling out the second and third place spots. (No surprise, given that body-on-frame vehicles like pickups and SUVs are known to be cash cows). German and Japanese automakers round out the top twelve, and we urge you to click through our attached image gallery to see exactly which vehicles have been raking in the most cash for their companies over the past 21 years.


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  • 68 Comments
      iPlunger
      • 3 Years Ago
      porsche 911, no shocker there. 99% of its cost comes from options. like the steering wheel, or seat belts, or in the RS models where they charge you to remove stuff.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      threefortyduster
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's just interesting to me that Steven J Ewing considers a Jeep Grand Cherokee either German or Japanese.
        72CJ5driver
        • 3 Years Ago
        @threefortyduster
        It does run on a modified Mercedes ML chassis... just sayin'
          Frank
          • 3 Years Ago
          @72CJ5driver
          Typical Daimler propaganda. The basic platform was a joint effort of Jeep and Mercedes. It's not old. The main Mercedes component? A Mercedes-influenced independent rear suspension. this is the same trick they did with the 300/Charger, a revised rear suspension and then said it was an old E-class chassis, when it wasn't. They wanted to give the 300/Charger some panache, but they said it was an old E-class because they didn't want to upset the current E-class customers. Now they don't want to admit that the ML is based off the Jeep. And they just announced they are designing a new 6 cylinder because they won't be able to use Chrysler's Pentastar (that was the original plan, but they would have put their own head on it and swore up and down it was not the same engine underneath).
          Frank
          • 3 Years Ago
          @72CJ5driver
          Other way around. The Jeep engineers took the lead in designing the all new (not modiefied) Jeep Grand Cherokee platform. That's why Jeep and Dodge came out with it first before Mercedes did. And in case you're wondering the Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger are not modified Mercedes platforms either. Never were.
          TMTexas
          • 3 Years Ago
          @72CJ5driver
          72CJ5 / Elmo - No, it does not ride on a modified ML chassis. It rides on a shared platform that was developed at Jeep Truck Engineering in Detroit. Since people don't want to believe the truth unless it comes from a media source, here's what AutoNews said on the matter: "Development of the Grand Cherokee started when the automaker was part of DaimlerChrysler. The Grand Cherokee and Mercedes-Benz's next-generation SUVs share some steering column, engine cradle, body structure, suspension and other components. Both companies share the same seat structure supplier. Jansen labeled the sharing between the two companies at less than 10 percent, by both value and the number of parts." Read more: http://www.autonews.com/article/20100620/OEM04/100619843
          Elmo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @72CJ5driver
          Frank, the Grand Cherokee is based on the old W164 platform. It's a modified version of the chassis.
          MyerShift
          • 3 Years Ago
          @72CJ5driver
          No, it doesn't. The Grand Cherokee has been unit body long before the ML was. The first ML was BoF. My God. Where do people get these stupid notions? It's not like Mercedes engineered any vehicle at Chrysler. Just forced parts down its throat because the cars just wouldn't have been good enough in Daimler's arrogant view. If they had been involved with Chrysler's cars the last generation vehicles wouldn't have been so damn awful. Mercedes did nothing good for Chrysler.
      Hazdaz
      • 3 Years Ago
      None of the ones on the list should really be surprising - either they sell in huge numbers (like the F150), or they sell for huge numbers, in terms of their price (S-class).
      Xedicon
      • 3 Years Ago
      I wonder how they figured out the costs of development, and if that cost was adjusted for inflation since the beginning of development through production. Also, if that is the case, how did they find out WHEN development started? What year did they adjust it to? Did the depreciation of the equipment used during development factor in? What's actually defined as the cost of development and was the same standard applied to each company? What about changes in this information between when they collected the data on the first company and the last one? Is there a set date range to try and standardize the study as much as possible? Are all variants of each vehicle included, or are some markets left out? (think left vs right hand drive for example) Point being is that studies can be made to be said whatever you want. Don't believe me, take a good business statistics class - it's crazy how many ways you can "present" the same data set. Sure these are all profitable vehicles, but I still have to wonder if this really is the top 12.
      SGH
      • 3 Years Ago
      makes sense, makes sense, makes sense.....c c c c combo breaker with the Honda Accord.
      Mark
      • 3 Years Ago
      What is on the grill of the Mercedes S class - the clear-looking shield-shaped thing right in the middle? I have seen these on Mercs and cannot find any info on what exactly it is. HELP!?
        Rob
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Mark
        I believe it is an ultrasonic sensor to help prevent hitting pedestrians and other objects in front of the vehicle
          - v o c t u s -
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Rob
          Ah, Mercedes. What's their pitch these days? More blind drivers are jumping ship from Bangle's BMW to Mercedes's cars that drive themselves
      poopoohead100
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm actually curious about the margins on these cars. I wonder how much the production costs on cars like the E class or 5 series vs. something like an Accord.
      dodie1990
      • 3 Years Ago
      Body and frame rear wheel drive are the most durable and cheapest to maintain. We have made them for over 100 years. They are the best value for yhe money. Unfortunately there are no more cars made that way here. The giv't wants the few real SUV's to be dropped and replaced with mini vans. So if you want a real SUV(Suburban) better get one before it changes to ma mini=van unibody light duty cat.
      Quentin
      • 3 Years Ago
      It doesn't appear that they included incentives or fleet prices on this. Full size trucks regularly have $3k ~ $5k of cash on the hood and a large percentage are sold to fleets that are sold at a small profit.
        Quentin
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Quentin
        "... sold to fleets at little profit." rather
        Dean Hammond
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Quentin
        trust me, money is still made on fleet vehicles and vehicles with Govt concessions...
      MAX
      • 3 Years Ago
      Mopar has 2, Oddly enough the vast majority of these cash cows are built with union labor!
        TruthHertz
        • 3 Years Ago
        @MAX
        That doesn't mean anything. It simply means that the product is exceptional (or cheap to build) and people are willing to pay the asking price. Non-union labor would simply increase the margins.
        Zoom
        • 3 Years Ago
        @MAX
        I love how even in a article that spins positively SOMEONE on AB finds a reason to bash workers. Disgusting. Most of the cars are built with union labor, including German union labor.
      unfined
      • 3 Years Ago
      I would like to see how much Chinese content is in the F150. North American content was dramatically reduced on the F150 recently. A shame as it has always been a profitable truck with or without US content.
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