With Tops Down On Convertibles, So Is The Market

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1972 – 1979 Volkswagen Käfer 1303 Cabriolet (Photo by Georg Sander)

Tops are down on convertibles, as drivers cruise into summer, but it turns out their market is down too. Functionality and versatility are the indicators of success in the car market right now, and convertibles aren’t providing that for car buyers.

Even with a typical summer uptick in convertible sales, consumers are generally looking elsewhere.

According to experts from Cars.com and Kelley Blue Book (KBB), the market for the less luxurious convertibles has been in a steady decline for years. While those with enough disposable income are still buying the top-of-the-line convertibles that cost at least $30,000, the market for convertibles under that price threshold is dropping.

Karl Brauer, the senior director of insights and senior editor at KBB, said that the decline in convertible shares has been consistent, with the market share dropping more than a full percentage point since 2006, when their share was 1.97 percent. Through March of this year, that share has gone down to .81 percent.

Convertible Mustang interior (Photo by Charlie J)
Convertible Mustang interior
(Photo by Charlie J)

“It’s the same reason sedans haven’t been doing as well. People prefer the flexibility of the SUV, compared to convertibles,” Brauer said.

Cars.com Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays said that the most successful convertible right now is the Jeep Wrangler, which of course isn’t what most picture when thinking of a convertible. Among conventional convertibles, Mays said that the Ford Mustang and Volkswagen Beetle convertible stand out. The Mustang is a classic, and consumers like the hard top feature as well as the second row. The Beetle convertible stood out to Mays because it accounts for about half of all Beetle sales.

Both Mays and Brauer said safety is not to blame for any decrease in sales, as the cars are probably as safe as they’ve ever been. Technology has made it possible for convertibles to automatically raise a bar that protects those inside the car in the event of a rollover. While side curtain airbags used to be impossible for convertibles due to the lack of a roof in their structure, carmakers can now insert airbags that rise up from the door, somewhat mimicking the effect of traditional side curtain airbags.

“Convertibles usually have a very low sense of gravity, which lowers the risk of a rollover. That usually will only happen if they go off-road,” Mays explained. The ease of putting down and pulling up a soft or hard top on convertibles is also as easy as ever.

Almost all convertibles are made with automatic push-button retractable roofs now, and many automatically pack themselves down, meaning they don’t stick up out of the back of the car like they used to.

“The retractable hard top that deploys a full metal roof is really popular. I’m surprised that no one is making the four-door convertible that was so popular in the 1960s,” Mays said. “The technology is there for a four-door convertible with a metal hardtop. At that point you’d have no downside because it would have all the functionality of a sedan and the retractable roof of a convertible.”

With affordable convertibles going off the market and sports utility vehicles taking over, Mays and Brauer said only the luxurious and expensive convertibles remain.

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