2014 BMW Z4Enlarge Photo
BMW is well-known for its performance cars but the automaker hasn’t offered a pure sports model for years. There’s a good reason for this, according to its sales chief Ian Robertson, and that’s because the sports car market is waning.
“The sports car market is roughly half of what it used to be,” Robertson told Bloomberg. “Post-2008, it just collapsed—I’m not so sure it’ll ever fully recover.”
To be clear, Robertson isn’t talking about high-end sports cars and supercars, which lately have been enjoying record sales (just ask Ferrari or Porsche if in doubt). Instead, the BMW exec is mostly referring to more affordable mainstream sports models like BMW’s own Z4 as well as the Audi TT and Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class.
Combined global sales of this trio peaked at about 114,000 units in 2007 before slumping 45 percent by 2010, according to research company IHS Automotive. Moving to the lower end of the spectrum, Toyota execs have also stated that poor sales of the GT 86/Scion FR-S sports car has led the automaker to rule out launching additional variants.
Robertson cites the rising popularity of SUVs as being a factor behind the falling sales of sports cars, which is particularly true for emerging markets such as Russia and China. Then there’s the issue of automakers now offering more practical sedans and SUVs that offer sports car-like performance. One could also argue that the car is no longer the major status symbol it once was, especially among younger buyers.
But the image-boosting affect a sports car can have on the rest of a brand is still a powerful one, and that is why automakers like BMW will continue to offer sports cars. But for BMW, it has meant teaming up with Toyota to share development costs. The two are working together on a sports car platform; Toyota will use it for a Supra successor while BMW is expected to use it for a Z4 replacement.