Continuous changes in global consumer tastes for cars have shifted the motoring landscape quite a bit in recent years. Demand for light vehicles continues to face challenges amid the possibility of a global recession, but there is one particular segment near and dear to enthusiasts' hearts that is in dire straits: sports cars.
The numbers are very clear. Over the past seven years, global sales of sports cars, including coupes, convertibles, supercars, and hypercars, have fallen by 34 percent. In plain figures, that's a drop from 570,000 units in 2015 to just 375,000 units last year.
As such, we can determine the decline isn't simply a consequence of the pandemic, as the drop started in 2016 and accelerated in 2020. Last year, sports cars recorded the lowest sales since at least 2014, which is where our research for this Motor1 Numbers piece begins.
Demand Falling In China
The main reason for this troubling situation is the lack of interest from Chinese consumers in this type of car. In contrast to the strong sales of sedans and SUVs, or even MPVs, sports cars have barely managed to capture the attention of Chinese buyers. That's a big problem considering this is the world's largest automotive market.
Sports cars accounted for a mere fraction of China's light-vehicle sales in 2021, totaling 18,000 units. Compared to 9.73 million SUVs and 8.38 million sedans sold in the region, 18,000 isn't even a drop in the bucket. Without China, sports cars are doomed to become an even smaller niche segment than they already are.
However, sports cars are still reasonably strong sellers in the United States, which is the segment's biggest market by far. In 2021, American consumers bought nearly 220,000 sports cars, down 3 percent compared to 2020 but with an even greater share than China. The US volume accounted for 59 percent of global demand for these vehicles, followed by Germany and Japan.
Sports cars also have their problems in Europe. Demand in 2021 amounted to almost 71,000 vehicles sold, down 9 percent compared to 2020. However, that corresponds to less than 1 percent of total registrations.
Obviously, the boom in SUVs is a major factor in the decline of sports car sales. Although these vehicles are not direct competitors, the arrival of so-called coupe SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne Coupe and high-performance models like the BMW X5 M has derailed sales of traditional coupes and convertibles. Last year, 3.05 million SUVs with coupe-like styling and/or high-performance engines were sold, an increase of 19 percent.
American Cars Lead The Way
Ford and Dodge lead the pack by a wide margin thanks to the popularity of the Mustang and Challenger. Popularity in the US drove the success, but the Ford Mustang was the most popular sports car in the world with 69,600 units sold. The Dodge Challenger was second, but Porsche still garners attention on the global stage by taking the third spot. The Chevrolet Camaro continues its decline but still makes the list, joining the Corvette which saw its volume increase by 53 percent.
In Porsche's case, most of the sales came from the iconic 911, which continues to perform well with buyers. Mazda increased deliveries of the MX-5, Ferrari impressed with the Roma, Lexus with the LC, and Aston Martin with the Vantage.
The question remains: will this segment survive increasing emissions regulations and the electrification of the industry without contributions from China's sizable market?
The author of the article, Felipe Munoz, is a JATO Dynamics Automotive Industry Specialist.