Total U.S. convertible registrations reached 296,433 units for the 2003 calendar year, a 2.3 percent decrease compared with 2002, according to market researcher RL Polk. After experiencing strong growth in the late 1990s peaking in 2001 with over 310 thousand units, the U.S. convertible market has slowed in recent years, off 4.6 percent in the 2003 calendar year from its recent high-water mark.

“Convertibles are a more discretionary purchase than most vehicles and are sensitive to changes in consumer confidence and buying attitudes,” said Lonnie Miller, director of Polk’s Analytical Solutions. “Having seen consumer confidence remain relatively low for most of 2003, it is not surprising that the convertible market was adversely affected. The production of new specialty vehicles is also providing consumers with more shopping choices.”

The 2003 model year saw the introduction of some new niche convertibles such as the VW New Beetle, the Nissan 350Z, the New Dodge Viper, the BMW Z4 and the Cadillac XLR Roadster. These launches were offset by several convertibles exiting the market or aging in their lifecycle like the VW Cabrio, the Camaro and Firebird convertibles, the BMW Z3, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Toyota Solara and Mazda Miata.

“The direction of the convertible market in 2004 will be determined by consumer sentiment. The overall automobile market is forecast to rise in 2004, and we are expecting a similar move in the convertible market depending on a real change in consumer spending attitudes and employment,” said Miller. “There are several new convertibles that will be coming onto the market this year that will create interest like the Mini Cabrio, the Crossfire Convertible, the PT Cruiser Convertible and the new Mercedes SLK. Manufacturers continue to use convertibles for their halo effect of drawing in new customers. New and freshened convertible choices are important to this capricious market.”

The Chrysler Sebring and Ford Mustang retained their number one and two positions with 42,476 and 41,289 registrations respectively. The VW New Beetle rose to third place with 23,316 registrations followed by another newcomer, the BMW Z4, successor to the BMW Z3, with 18,852 registrations. Finishing out the top 5 was the Ford Thunderbird at 18,056 registrations.


                       Top 10 Convertibles in 2003

  Rank    Make           Model           2003 CY
  1       CHRYSLER       SEBRING          42,476
  2       FORD           MUSTANG          41,289
  3       VOLKSWAGEN     NEW BEETLE       23,316
  4       BMW            Z4               18,852
  5       FORD           THUNDERBIRD      18,056
  6       MERCEDES-BENZ  SL               13,009
  7       MITSUBISHI     ECLIPSE          12,382
  8       MAZDA          MIATA            11,308
  9       CHEVROLET      CORVETTE         10,928
  10      LEXUS          SC430            10,548

  Source:  R. L. Polk & Co. U.S. registrations