My wife and I recently had to replace my beloved manual transmission BMW 3-Series coupe with a Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. Why? Well, we have one kid with another one on the way. You do the math. The Santa Fe doesn’t exactly imbue one with driving thrills, but it holds five comfortably, hauls groceries and baby gear and gives my wife an added degree of security on the road.
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If it were up to me, I’d cram my two kids in the back of the BMW so they could experience how a real sports coupe drives. Sadly, the reality of the car market is painfully reflective of my reality at home. For a driving enthusiast, it hurts like hell; but it also make sense. Sales in the crossover segment are bursting at the seams, and there’s no end in sight from what I can tell.
For a driving enthusiast, it hurts like hell; but it also make sense. Sales in the crossover segment are bursting at the seams, and there’s no end in sight from what I can tell.
On any given day, you can go to the supermarket parking lot to see large expanses of asphalt occupied by a stupefying number of crossovers. From rugged SUV-inspired models like the new Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk to slightly elevated poseurs like the Mini Countryman (more stilted small wagons than true utility boxes), the domestic landscape is simply littered with them. Bigger just makes the American populace feel more secure, more able to haul kids and bulk goods and superior to more vertically challenged passenger vehicles like sedans and hatchbacks. In fact, 2014 annual automotive sales in America reflected exactly that, with 3,840,601 new crossovers sold — the most popular segment, eclipsing everything else including pickup trucks, being mid-size cars and small passenger cars.
The strongest argument for the prevalence of crossovers is their ability to toe the line between price, driving dynamics, passenger and cargo capacity and mileage. They’re like the shoe you can wear to the gym, the office, the backyard barbecue and the wedding. Even though SUV sales still do relatively well, the desire for big SUVs isn’t what it used to be because of fuel prices (until recently) and the perception of big SUVs’ relationship with the environment. But we still want room and the ability to see over passenger cars, and CUVs fulfill that desire. Earlier last year, IHS Automotive analyst Tom Libby recently posted the hard facts: Small CUVs now outsell what used to be the bread and butter of the automotive industry, midsize sedans. Sure, the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima still crush CUVs in single-model sales numbers — an area midsize sedans dominated for a stunning 10-year stretch. But collectively, small CUVs now outsell all midsize sedans on the market.
The simultaneous drop in the popularity of sports cars — the very automotive segment that’s birthed legends like the Porsche 911, the Jaguar F-Type and the Dodge Viper may not seem like the direct result of increased CUV sales, but there is a correlation.
Another reason for the rapid ascent in CUV sales is that there is a larger selection of crossovers available now than there were several years ago. Audi only sold the Q7 in 2007; now they sell the Q5, Q3 and the allroad. What about BMW? In 2007, they sold the X3 and X5 Sports Activity Vehicles (fancy-speak for crossover). Now, BMW sells the X1, X3, X4, X5 and X6. If this keeps up, they’ll run out of numbers.
The simultaneous drop in the popularity of sports cars — the very automotive segment that’s birthed legends like the Porsche 911, the Jaguar F-Type and the Dodge Viper — may not seem like the direct result of increased CUV sales, but there is a correlation. It’s not so much that more people are cross-shopping between high-end sports cars and affordable CUVs. It’s more the effects of a culture that’s less about status and driving excitement than it is about being practical.
2014 saw some abysmal sports car sales that lately have been a trend. Some of the worst-selling cars are sports cars. They show annual sales figures that don’t justify their existence. Below are some statistics on last year’s sports car sales; we’ve purposely left off the sports cars whose base price is above $100K since the more expensive exotics never really sell in huge numbers, and we also omitted cars that have not been for sale for the entire 12 months of 2014.
Dodge Viper (760)
Audi TT (1,158)
Nissan GT-R (1,436)
Jaguar XK (1,452)
BMW Z4 (2,151)
Porsche Cayman (3,417)
Porsche Boxster (3,875)
Jaguar F-Type (4,112)
Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class (4,737)
Nissan 370Z (7,199)
On the contrary, there are still some sports cars that do particularly well in the market. For 2014, these were some of the most successful sports cars:
Chevrolet Camaro (86,297)
Ford Mustang (82,635)
Chevrolet Corvette (34,839)
So what do these numbers mean? Does the fact that most sports cars don’t sell in big numbers equate to their untimely demise because CUVs are taking over? Not necessarily. The fact that three sports cars still sell in relatively good numbers means their market share is still extremely relevant. But the numbers on the CUV side tell another aspect of the story. Here are the ten worst-selling crossovers in 2014:
Infiniti QX50 (2,727)
Land Rover LR2 (3,619)
Infiniti QX70 (5,213)
Volkswagen Touareg (6,961)
Honda Crosstour (11,802)
Land Rover Range Rover Evoque (12,440)
Mitsubishi Outlander (13,068)
Mazda CX-9 (18,496)
Volvo XC60 (19,276)
Mini Countryman (22,645)
And the top three crossovers sold in 2014:
Honda CR-V (335,019)
Ford Escape (306,212)
Toyota RAV4 (267,698)
The ten worst crossovers still sold a total of 116,247 vehicles in 2014 — almost twice as many sold as the ten worst-selling sports cars. The top three crossovers sold 908,929 altogether. That’s almost five times more than the three best sports cars. As more and more car buyers turn to the crossover, other segments suffer as a result — our beloved sports cars being one of those segments. Cued by the recession in 2007, sports car sales have slowly decreased to the point where their volumes were eventually cut in half, whereas crossover sales have risen substantially year over year. Case in point: In 2007, the Honda CR-V sold 219,160 units; in 2014, Honda sold an astounding 335,019 CR-Vs, a nearly 53 percent increase in sales in a seven-year period. For sports cars, the changes is downright depressing. In 2007, the Ford Mustang sold 134,626 units. In 2014, only 82,635 units made it off the lots, amounting to over a 38 percent drop in sales for the model. The crossover isn’t deliberately killing the sports car, but it is eating up a lot of potential buyers on the market.
Even though the sports car as a an automotive symbol of status has been on the decline and the overall sales reflect that fact, the segment isn’t going the way of the dodo anytime soon.
Even though the sports car as a an automotive symbol of status has been on the decline and the overall sales reflect that fact, the segment isn’t going the way of the dodo anytime soon. Manufacturers aren’t killing their sports cars — they’re still a big draw for the brands, at least in terms of publicity, if not in terms of actual sales. They symbolize the dreams of car lovers and embody the best of what manufacturers have to offer in terms of technology, style and performance. Even if meager sales don’t seem to warrant their perpetuation, sports cars will survive the sales downturn, if only because they’re marketing icons and their disappearance would sully their brands’ image.
For all the lovers of Miatas, 911s, BMW M4s and everything else with two doors, a great power-to-weight ratio and that even rarer stick shift, don’t lose hope. Though there may not exist the kind of hope that can be backed up by huge sports car sales (it may never fully recover), the mere fact that sports cars exist to fulfill fantasies and marketing plans means that for the foreseeable future, they are here to stay. And that, as minimal as it may be, is the kind of good news we’ll hold onto until the kids get older.