Any way you measure it the auto industry had an awful year in 2009. At 10.4 million total sales there were almost 2.8 million fewer vehicles sold in 2009 than in 2008. Only two automakers — Hyundai and Subaru — managed to improve their sales in 2009.
We looked hard at the 2009 numbers and frankly we’re ready to put a period behind it. There is a silver lining though; 2010 is starting out on a roll. Chevrolet posted 105,294 total vehicle sales in January 2010, representing an increase of 36.4 percent over January 2009. Leading the gains are Chevrolet’s fuel-efficient family cars. Ford Motor Company kicked off 2010 with a 24 percent January sales increase compared to that of a year ago.
But before getting too revved about the new car year we took one final look into 2009’s ugly sales charts and one category really took a beating: sportscars. According to industry data experts at Edmunds.com, sales in the sportscar segment plunged 53 percent last year. It seems official: when money gets tight and the economy goes sour, one of the first things to go are thoughts of buying a “fun” car like a Corvette, Mustang or Mazda Miata.
As the late Johnny Carson used to ask, “How bad was it?” Well, sales of General Motor Co.’s Chevrolet Corvette fell last year to their lowest point since the Kennedy Administration.
The Corvette’s 13,934 sales in 2009 were the worst for the nameplate since 1961, when Chevrolet sold 10,939. That year, the Corvette was still in its first generation.
As recently as 2006, Chevrolet sold more than two-and-a-half times as many Corvettes — 36,518 — as it did last year, where the 13,939 sales figure represented a 48.3-percent freefall from 2008.
How about the always-popular Mustang? Ford might prefer you didn’t ask: sales slid last year to 66,623, a 27-percent drop.
Considering sales for the entire industry were off 21.2 percent last year, you might say the Mustang didn’t suffer too badly, until you consider Ford sold nearly two-and-half times that many Mustangs, 163,431, just three years ago.
One GM official told us he wasn’t surprised by the Corvette’s near half-century low sales figure in 2009. He said the Corvette is an aspirational car for many middle-class people (mostly males, of course); the ‘Vette’s high proportion of “everyman” buyers, many of whom presumably were hit hard by the economic downturn, almost guaranteed Corvette sales would be pummeled.
It’s a popular maxim that truly rich people aren’t really affected by a bad economy and unemployment, but the market for high-priced sportscars wouldn’t be proof. Really rich people didn’t buy too many big-money sportscars last year, either.
One of the Corvette’s primary competitors in market, the Porsche 911, dropped just 17.8 percent last year, but Porsche’s had many years when 6,839 sales of its flagship would have been cause for sleepless nights in Germany. Sales for Porsche’s less-expensive Boxster and Cayman were off 35.7 percent and 44 percent, respectively, in 2009.
What worries some fans of this breed is whether the Corvette’s precedent-setting sales decline actually is a simple symptom of a bad year for the industry and the economy — or is it an indicator of a broader decline in interest for sportscars?
Historically, sales of sportscars have been cyclical with trends running hot and cold in accordance with periods of economic prosperity and decline. But with younger generations seemingly enamored with more-accessible consumer-electronic devices than with sporty cars, while their older counterparts may have lost a lot of discretionary income during the recession, more than a few auto-industry observers are wondering if sportscars are watching their best days fade in the rearview mirror. — Bill Visnic, Motor Matters
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2010