The Sports Car is Dying. Long Live the Sporty Car.


Journalists love to opine as to the disposition of segments of the automotive world.  We also like to use words like “opine” and “disposition” but that’s not important right now.   I’m here to talk about sports cars.  But first, if you’ll indulge me, a definition.

sports car:  a low small usually 2-passenger automobile designed for quick response, easy maneuverability, and high-speed driving

That’s via Merriam-Webster at least.  If you spent any time on Car & Driver’s forum back in the late 90s, you’ll recall that a subforum had “Sports car” in the title.  A user took it upon himself to police that particular area of the internet, I’ll spare you his username although I remember it, stating that a Camaro for example was not a sports car and should not be discussed in this particular area of the website.  This was when I really started to contemplate what a sports car was and whether it mattered how it was defined.  Personally I vacillate between including and excluding the 2-passenger bit.  Push comes to shove, I’d include it, and will for the purposes of this article.

Sports Car Sales

Speaking of C&D, Mr. Phillips posited the fate of the sports car this past Spring.  He touches on part of what I came here to do as well, which is to highlight the harsh reality that we just aren’t buying sports cars anymore.  The mid-to-late 2000s were the golden age of American sports car sales.  The venerable Miata/MX-5 averaged over 14,000 cars sold per year in the U.S. between 2005-2008.  That’s a far cry from the 4745 sold here last year, a number that has been on the decline fairly consistently since 2008.  There is a new one though, and we’ll be driving the ND in a couple weeks, so stay tuned to RFD to hear what we think.  The Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky are in the celestial scrapyard, and even they rocked out with their (ill fitting) tops off back in the late 2000s averaging 15,742 and 9699 units per year respectively from 2006-2008, they leveled out to a modest 3000-5000 sold per year in 2009.  As you already know, they didn’t make the GM roster past 2010.

But what about the luxury makes, surely there are enough mid-life crises out there to make the business case for a 2-seat sports car?  Well, similarly the Germans killed it back in the day with both the BMW Z4 and Mercedes-Benz SLK selling in the 5-digit range between 2005-2006.  Since then, they have experienced the same decline as the MX-5 zeroing in on sub 5000 units annually (Mercedes sold 4737 SLKs in 2014 and the BMW moved only 2151 Z4s last year).  The Porsche Boxster has sold in low numbers consistently for the past decade plus, moving only 3875 cars in the US in 2014.  The hardtop Cayman sells in similar numbers if you were wondering.

Chevrolet Corvette ZO6Image Credit: Directly Connected Magazine

The Chevrolet Corvette however, is an anomaly.  A big, V8 anomaly moving well over 30,000 cars per year between 2004-2007.  And while it’s had a few down years, its never dipped below 5-digits and sold an incredible 34,839 cars in the US in 2014.  That’s more than twice as many Vettes moved than every other sports car I mentioned above sold in 2014.  Combined.  The 911 is another bright spot, with Porsche selling 10,433 in the US last year.  So is the Corvette our savior?  Will it keep the fire alive for those of us who would like to eschew the creature comforts of a larger car for the primeval sports car experience?  Speaking of primeval, the new Alfa Romeo 4C has graced 443 climate controlled garages thus far in 2015, let’s hope that continues to catch on.

Sporty Car Sales

So what did we learn from all those numbers?  Well, there’s hope for one thing.  Sports cars may be on the down slope, but there are enough of us out there purchasing them to least make a decent case for their survival.  And as Phillips notes in his piece, the expansion of the “sporty car” is at an all-time high.  American muscle sells.  The Camaro, Challenger and Mustang, all certainly considered “sporty” cars, are selling damn well.  The Mustang in particular is absolutely killing it, already surpassing 2014’s 82,635 units sold with a fantastic 86,769 pony cars sold within the first 8 months of 2015!  If that isn’t hope for the back road driver, nothing is.  Chevy and Dodge have sold 30K to 40K less Camaros and Challengers than the Mustang respectively thus far in 2015 but are still moving a good number of cars.  Plus both have new iterations in the offing, which is likely what has helped Ford move so many cars over the last year or so.

I submit the current crop of hot hatchbacks and less expensive coupes is the best we’ve seen in the US in our generation (Ed. note: the 90s may have been better, sorry).  The Golf GTI has been on the uptick for the past 5 years a well, selling 17,362 in 2014 and an impressive 14,992 through August of this year.  Ford doesn’t necessarily break out ST vs. non ST sales for the Fiesta and Focus, but suffice to say they both sell amazingly well, somewhere just under 300,000 least year combined.  That’s a lot of cars.  Even the “we’re not selling as many as we had hoped” Subaru BRZ and Scion FRS sold 21,566 drivers (combined) on RWD last year.  We have one of each in our RFD Garage.  Even if that’s not quite the volume the accountants had hoped, (and sure both sold a bit less than in 2013) compared to the pure sports cars above, that’s a decent number of cars.

Ford Mustang GTImage Credit: Automobile Mag

Screw the Numbers, Go Drive

In the end, sales figures only affect the future.  Whether the bean counters at each of the aforementioned large automotive companies decide to keep these cars alive won’t keep any of these fine vehicles that were already built from being available in the used market.  So, until our autonomous future, one I have already embraced, there are quite a few great cars to go drive.  Don’t give me that crap about how young people don’t care about cars, or there is too much traffic to really go enjoy driving (the autobahn is just fine these days).  Short of Singapore, I’ve never been to a place that you couldn’t escape to a low/no traffic back road or a track to enjoy your sports (or sporty) car.  Find the perfect back road, take a road trip, sign up for a road rally, autocross, HPDE or some other event.  It doesn’t matter what you drive, just go enjoy driving for drivings sake.

 Header Image: BMW

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