There was a time when every worker bee’s retirement dream included zipping around the open road in a red open-top sports car, but dwindling sales seem to indicate that these once-beloved cars are declining in popularity.
Mustang’s sales fell by 9%, forcing them to halt production for a week, and Corvette’s sales in the traditionally strong US market was down by 18% in February 2016. Even their popular C6 ZR1 program was denied for production twice amidst low sales concerns.
Sports cars are generally defined as low-built, speedy cars with or without a roof that can be folded back, smaller than coupes, with an emphasis on performance. And yes, they were the favourite of the boomer generation (typically men, born between 1946-1964).
“The decline is not an indictment of the vehicles themselves,” says Jeff Osborne, Head of Gumtree Automotive. “But the car market is subject to lifestyle trends, as all products are. The reality is that whereas a sports car was once The Ultimate Vehicle to aspire to, there is no longer an “ultimate”. A retiree or wealthy millennial is just as likely to flash their cash by buying a vintage Ferrari, an eco-friendly hybrid, an autonomous Tesla or a Porsche GT3 as they are to buy a Camaro or Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S. Choice is legion in that price class.”
Osborne also says that the biggest asset of a sports car – speed – is less important to buyers. “It’s not that we’ve lost the desire to hit the open road, it’s that we’ve run out of open road. With many executives putting off retirement and continuing to work and pursue active lifestyles well past the age of sixty-five, the emphasis is on practically. Eco friendliness and roominess (a roof rack for your bike, a large boot for your golf clubs) for the long commute and your weekend hobbies are general more important to urban dwellers than speed, because you have fewer opportunities to really show off speed.”
Urban dwellers are viewing cars differently, says Osborne. “They are no longer the status symbols they once were, and with alternatives such as Uber eliminating the associated hassle of parking and unproductive hours in traffic jams, buyers aren’t as concerned with owning expensive cars.”
The tough economic times has also played a factor. “Generation Xers are not doing as well as their parents’ generation, and having witnessed the economic recession and real estate bust, they are more cautious with their purchases. The millennial generation currently make up 22% of all Mustang buyers, but not the pool of twenty to thirty year olds who can afford new sports cars is not that significant.”
Osborne also says that one has to consider the performance of other cars in the manufacturing pool. “There was no such thing as a sporty SUV or hatchback twenty or thirty years ago. Even though manufacturers like Porsche will concede that their sports ranges aren’t as popular as they once were, their sales of “family” cars are higher than ever before. Their top sellers are the Cayenne and the Macan. Even Lamborghini and Maserati are investing in SUVs.”
Is the sports car dead, or dying? “Absolutely not,” says Osborne. “We might see a reinvention of some kind (many sports cars are addressing eco concerns by introducing high-performance hybrid engines). But I do think that performance, speed and size will always be desired – as will sports cars.”