The market for sports cars is currently worth approximately 1.6 million units worldwide per year. It has been at around this level for the last few years. Much of the recent buoyancy in the segment has been supply-side led and expect that the new and replacement model programmes currently under way at most of the major vehicle manufacturers will result in a continuation of this largely buoyant picture-the global economic downturn permitting of course.

The global sports car market can be broken down as follows:

Figure 1: The global sports car market, by region, 2000

Japan 72,000
The USA 862,000
Western Europe 535,500
Plus sales in Australia, Canada, the Middle East and the rest of the world 115,000
source: Autoanalysis, trade sources

The market in the US appears to have settled around 860,000 units a year, while the Japanese market has collapsed from almost 250,000 units in the mid-1990s to a total volume of a little under 72,000 units in 2000. The West European market had been growing steadily until 2000 (when it dipped in line with the fall in the car market as a whole).

Figure 2: The global market for sports cars, by region, 1998-2000

Country/region 1998 1999 2000
USA 868,755 865,223 862,015
Western Europe 535,215 565,798 535,408
Japan 92,209 89,122 71,943
Rest of World (est.) 110,000 120,000 115,000
Total (rounded) 1,606,200 1,640,100 1,584,400
Source: AutoAnalysis, trade sources

The health of the sports car market is arguably more dependent on economic buoyancy, the “feel-good” factor and consumer confidence than any other car sector-witness the fall in the Japanese sports car market as the Japanese economy has spiralled downwards into recession. In addition, the fickle Japanese consumer switched car purchase funds to other vehicle types, especially estate cars and MPVs. In the US and parts of western Europe, the segment has undoubtedly sustained much of its recent volume on the back of several years of economic prosperity in both regions.

In the first half of 2001, the economic situation in the US has given the automotive industry serious cause for concern, and the recent terrorist attacks have greatly added to the general level of economic uncertainty. Total industry volume forecasts have been revised downwards to reflect this concern as the US and European stock markets lost a large part of the allure which they had acquired in recent years. While this economic uncertainty has not affected Europe to the same extent yet, the failure of a number of “dot com” companies, concerns over whether Europe will indeed “catch a cold” as the American economy sneezes, and the temporary slowdown in the UK economy-as a result of the foot and mouth crisis-all combine to mean that the buoyant sports car market of the late 1990s will probably experience some “correction” in the near future.

Customer characteristics: overview

The number of models which fall into the broad sports car segment and their associated wide price range-from just under UK£13,000 for a base Ford Puma to around UK£80,000 for a top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benz SL and up to UK£176,000 for a Ferrari 456M GT-means that there is an equally diverse set of consumers. Defining a typical sports car owner or driver is not a simple exercise, whether we are talking about Europe, Japan or North America.
Apart from owners of classic sports cars (the enthusiasts who will spend as much time, if not more, restoring their cars than actually driving them), research which AutoAnalysis has conducted amongst dealers and distributors suggests that there is a general lack of buyer loyalty, whether to particular models or even brands. There are, of course, exceptions to this general rule: many Porsche drivers would drive nothing else and some cars, such as the Volkswagen Golf cabrio or the

Mazda-mx5.jpg” vspace=10 width=200>
Figure 3: The Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5, have achieved almost “cult” status and are understood to have high repeat purchase ratios.
However, in general, sports car customers are seen as very fickle and highly fashion driven. AutoAnalysis’ research has found that a significant proportion of customers will switch into the segment from other vehicle types or between sports coupé and cabrio models for “emotional” reasons; certainly they are thought to be far more “emotional” than they are “rational” in their car purchase. By contrast, estate car buyers, for example, typically have a specific need for that type of car whether for transport or other “lifestyle”-related uses. By contrast, sports coupé and cabrio buyers will generally buy their car for image-related reasons; in the upper-income section of the car-buying public, such cars are often the household’s second or third car and will frequently be bought by people whose children have left home.
There is, of course, some brand loyalty, and when this is found, we see this evident in two main groups of customer:

· First, there are those who are loyal to the manufacturer, rather than just to the model: this is undoubtedly the case with a significant number of Porsche customers, but this is also the case with some of the non-premium brands. When the Opel/Vauxhall Calibra was on the market, AutoAnalysis’ research showed how, for a short period of time at least, this model seemed to generate a unexpectedly high degree of “loyalty” as evidenced in repeat purchases; dealers and distributors believed this was loyalty to the brand or car company as much as to the car. Ford used to experience similar customer behaviour with the Escort Cabrio, something which makes the failure by Ford to offer a cabrio version of the Focus all the more mystifying-a failure which will be finally remedied in around 2004.

· Or, second, there are people who are loyal to a “classic”, segment-defining model, such as the Mazda MX-5 or the VW Golf cabrio. However, quite what makes a particular sports car into a “classic”, engendering it with a strong feeling of loyalty from its customers, as opposed to being a car which is only a temporary or fashion-led success, is difficult to define. On balance, it seems that a large part of the longevity and success of certain models in fact derives from these models having been one of the first-if not the first-of their type on the market; in our view this helps to explain the ongoing popularity of the Mazda MX-5 and the VW Golf cabrio.

Figure 4: The new Porsche 911 GT2

New customers

The buoyancy of the late 1990s sports car market-which was essentially supply-side led with manufacturers offering a regular flow of new models (particularly in the US and Europe)-has seen the segment attracting new customers, which we see as coming from two distinct groups, namely:

· Those coming into the sports segment from the hot hatch (GTi) and performance saloon markets; and
· Small business owners or senior corporate management who want an “executive” car which offers something different to vehicles driven by their colleagues; models like the coupé and cabrio versions of the BMW 3-Series, Volvo C70 and Mercedes CLK are all perceived as meeting such expectations especially well.

In general, traditional cost factors, such as the vehicle’s purchase price, insurance and other running costs, as well as residual values are seemingly less important in the purchase of a sports car than they are in the purchase of a mainstream vehicle. In general, customers in this segment can be expected to be able to afford any additional running costs which sports car ownership tends to incur.

Full details of the new report on sportscars, which contains analysis by manufacturer and by region, as well as comprehensive production data by model and by region, can be found by clicking on this link.

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

Review of the Global Market for Sports Cars (download)

Review of the Global Market for Sports Cars” and “A Review of the
Global Market for City Cars” – Special Offer (download)

The world’s car manufacturers: A financial and operating review (download)