By on April 27, 2015

BMW Z4

It’s been five months since BMW’s sales boss, Ian Robertson, made news by questioning the long-term viability of the sports car. “The sports car market is roughly half of what it used to be. Post-2008, it just collapsed. I’m not so sure it’ll ever fully recover,” Robertson said.

BMW, of course, is the maker of the Z4, a car which generates only one-tenth the volume now that it did when launched as a successor to the Z3. In other words, it’s not much wonder BMW wonders whether outright sports cars have a future. 

Just how bad has the Z4’s situation become? Only 802 were sold in the first-quarter of 2015, down 6% compared with the same period one year ago. The Z4 accounted for just 1% of BMW brand volume over the last three months; just 1.5% of BMW passenger car sales. Naturally, roadsters aren’t typically major contributors to an automaker’s volume, but the Z4 was at one time. During a five-year span from 2003 onward, the Z4 was responsible for 5% of the brand’s U.S. sales.

USA Sports Car sales chart BMW Z4

It’s not as though BMW hasn’t significantly altered the Z4 to make it more appealing to a broader cross-section of the buying public. Previously a softtop convertible or a hardtop model, the Z4 has used a retractable hardtop since the 2009 relaunch.

Sales hardly perked up, however, and have only declined since. Only 2010’s marginal 7% increase and 2006’s 22% jump interrupted a streak that saw Z4 sales decline in nine of the last eleven years.

All of this brings us to the month of March 2015, the first time in a year that Z4 volume climbed beyond 300 units. Yet on a year-over-year basis, even March’s 422 sales revealed a 29% decline. Z4 volume has decreased in nine of the last 14 months; Z4 volume has increased only eight times in the last two years.

Yet while reports of sports car death seem to make a special amount of sense when BMW’s delivering the reports, it’s not as though Z4 rivals are contradicting Robertson’s theme.

The Audi TT’s U.S. volume has declined in nine of the last twelve years.

Mercedes-Benz SLK sales in America decreased in six of the last nine years.

Porsche Boxster sales in 2014 fell 15% in 2014 after rising to an eight-year high in 2013, but 2014 volume for the Boxster and Cayman, combined, was down 26% compared to the Boxster’s total from 2002.

The Nissan Z’s 2014 U.S. sales tally was less than one-fifth the total achieved in 2003.

One key exception: although the Chevrolet Corvette’s average U.S. annual volume dwindled to 14,230 units between 2009 and 2013, GM sold more than 34,000 Corvettes in 2014, the best year since 2006.

Since the quote from Ian Robertson was given in November, U.S. Z4 volume has fallen 5%.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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103 Comments on “Oh, So This Is Why BMW Thinks The Sports Car Market Isn’t Going To Recover...”


  • avatar

    Aging, expensive, maintenance-intensive two-season 2-seater European niche cars that are at best a second- or third-car keep dropping in sales volume.

    Surprised?

    Ask Corvette, Miata, and Mustang how sales are doing.

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      News at 11!

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      Miata sales are down basically 15-20% every year since the NC release.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      The Mustang is not a sports car, never was……it’s a ‘sporty’ car.

      • 0 avatar
        Pig_Iron

        American version of a grand tourer? It seems to me that sports cars are for those who really love them and are willing to spend the time and money to keep an maintain them. Wasn’t it Enzo who said an American sports car is a jeep?

    • 0 avatar
      Da Coyote

      Add to that that BMW has not recovered from the “fuglization” foisted upon them by Bangle. The Z3 (IMHO) was attractive. The Z4 is well…not actually as badly Bangled as most.

      And, add to that the wonderful reliability of German iron vs the Japanese. (I speak as one who’s been stranded by my BMWs and my Mercedes – all well within warranty periods.)

      Methinks the Gen4 Miata will sell well.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Excepting Mustang, aren’t most of these segment cars roadsters or near roadsters?

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Considering that the market was once owned completely by Mustang from 2003 to 2010 and is now chopped up by two competitors not bad so far.

      Compared to cars like the Corvette, Miata and toyobaru twins and even the Challenger. Mustang and,its primary rival are doing pretty good.

      Granted they aren’t doing as well as the bland beige mobiles but that’s because America is filled with boring disengaged people who despise the brief interruption between sitting in front of the TV and making money to keep said TV running.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        @Raph:
        Nonono, America is gull of people who must get to work on time every day, or else their kid will be refused service at the pediatrician’s office.

        A boring Civic/Corolla/Camry/Accord/Prius/Sienna/Oddysey make sense in terms of life-risk management within constrained resources.

        I’d love to have a toy car for fun. Maybe a Jeep, maybe a Miata. But my kids come first, and so employment and optimizing the resources to take care of them without a safety net come first. Appliances which start every day are the only rational option, in a sink or swim society. And I’m doing much better than most!

        P.S. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed any TV since Firefly, so I am disengaged when it comes to mindless time wasters. I’d much rather take my kid to the park!

  • avatar
    tedward

    The sports car market is odd though. The slk tt & z4 are gt cars in my book, in spite of their exterior styling and they don’t do sporty better than their sedan or hatch counterparts. The z is stale as could be and scion Subaru and Hyundai have all entered the game in the meantime. Meanwhile borderline sports cars in the muscle category have seriously upped their game and the mx-5 is relaunching. The German three simply don’t do that category.

    Edit… and oh yeah, the corvette

    • 0 avatar
      ellomdian

      I think you should rewrite your book – GT Cars are designed for long-distance luxury driving. Spend more than 2 hours on the highway in a Z4 or a SLK and you will pretty quickly see the difference between them and the 6 or the SL.

      I would agree with your statement though, the ‘Sports Car’ market in the US in particular is odd (where odd in this case means very different from 20 and 30 years ago.) The concept of a ‘European Sports Car’ really doesn’t resonate with as large a percentage of the demo as it used to. Most people would probably identify a Mustang or a Camero as a ‘Sports Car,’ and when you aren’t really sacrificing anything of convenience for the name of performance, it’s increasingly hard to sell narrow-purpose cars. Add whatever macro-economic theory you ascribe to, and it just magnifies the issue.

      Good thing you can immediately disregard anyone who just wants to ‘blame Bangle’ though – it’s really hard to believe that someone who literally blew BMW’s volume through the roof in the mid 00’s with the styling direction killed the small sports car in the process. Fine, you don’t like the styling – not like you’re a real customer anyways. The used Miata market, despite arguments to the contrary, is not the new BMW market.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Here’s the issue:

    * While younger people might have the lifestyle that allows a sportscar, by and large they don’t have the money to buy one new and don’t expect to have the lifestyle that will allow them one once they have the money.
    * Older people that do have the money are mostly done with this long/low/cramped nonsense and just buy crossovers anyway.

    If you want more sportscars—especially mainstream ones that don’t carry a premium badge and/or don’t trade on Boomer nostalgia—then you’ll need to adjust the economy in such a way as to not screw young people out of stable employment prospects.

    I’m personally not waiting for the older generations to show any such largesse; we’ve been steadily mortgaging the economic future of Gen X, Y and now the millennials for so long that it’s effectively become de rigueur socioeconomic policy: it’s “structural” underemployment now, donchanow?

    And yes, I’m more than a little bitter.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Young people keep voting to screw themselves. The left has them transfixed.

      • 0 avatar
        Crabspirits

        You’re never gonna vote well when the only choices you have are either a Sh*t Sandwich or a Giant Douche. Only the scum floats to the top these days.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          This

        • 0 avatar
          jim brewer

          Yet, old people, particularly white old people, are not so conflicted. They make up their mind and vote every time. They get treated very well by the politicians.

          Young people should get over themselves and vote, dammit.

          • 0 avatar
            Luke42

            @jim brewer:

            I’m in my mid-30s and make a six figure income. I’m considering not voting anymore. When there’s no real choice, there’s no point in voting. For instance, even Obama was mostly the same as Bush on the issues that affect my life (though he eventually come around on Net Neutrality, so that’s something).

            The last time I voted, I left the bull$#!t races (where politicians failed to debate anything relevant to the actual office they would hold) blank.

            I’ll probably keep showing up at the polls, so that my protest could be counted. But I expect many of the national races will left blank on my ballot for the same reason. My local politicians are more likely to run on things that matter, like road maintenance, education, or broadband — but that’s not saying much.

      • 0 avatar
        Driver8

        And the older vote to keep screwing the young.
        The circle of life continues.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        I just love it when complex socioeconomic and political issues can be distilled down to a single sentence strangely supportive of one’s own personal biases.

        You’ve got the politician catch-phrase thing down, thelaine, consider a run for 2016? Cause, you know, if you were in calling the shots around here everything would be flawless.

        • 0 avatar
          thelaine

          Thank u 30 fetch, but I disagree. I dont want to run anyone else’s life or have mine run. I agree with Crabspirits. The choices are bad to worse. All the more reason for giving less power to them. Still, the young believe in the promises of the left, and end up getting screwed.

          • 0 avatar
            carlisimo

            “Still, the young believe in the promises of the left, and end up getting screwed.”

            It’s cyclical. As soon as a Democratic administration sticks us in long, mismanaged wars and implodes the global economy, we’ll shift our votes rightward.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            I find most elections to be a trying to decide who is the lesser evil. Though given the @sshat tendencies of the Republicans lately, the choice is easier than when I was younger. One sure-fire way to make sure I do not vote for you is pandering to the religious right.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            carlisimo, Ive been to said wars on 3 occasions now, sent each time by the current Democrat. If the left was interested in ending the wars they would be long over.

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            Take a look at the national debt and the structure of programs like the ACA and tell me old people are not raping young people. Both sides need to stop worrying about the Christian right and anti gay marriage bakers and “wars for oil bro” start focusing on economics. The young are so easily manipulated. Who are getting the benefits? Who is getting screwed? One look at the debt will tell you.

      • 0 avatar
        319583076

        Voting has never mattered. If you believed that it ever did, the Supreme Court ruling equating campaign donations with free speech should have eliminated that belief. If not, well, you’re probably never going to understand the world.

      • 0 avatar
        ccd1

        Take another look at the landscape. It takes too much money to run for most offices. Too many elections are between rich guys funded by other rich guys and corporations. Either way, the concerns of the middle and lower classes are secondary, at best

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      There is not enough stability to go around anymore. Governments, in an attempt to maintain it, have reduced the percentage of folks who can obtain it.

      Most people actually don’t want it once they know what it costs and how unreal it is anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        The younger generation is falling our of love with the sports car. Most simply don’t have the money and those that do usually buy something practical because they have a wife a 2 kids to worry about.

    • 0 avatar
      Master Baiter

      Young people never bought these cars. They’re for over 40 types with enough disposable income to afford a second car.

      I love my M-roadster. Would I buy a Z4? Only if they remove all evidence that Chris Bangle was ever involved in the styling.

      Speaking of the Boxster, I test drove a lovely blue 2014 Boxster S with the 6 speed manual at a local dealer almost exactly a year ago. That car is STILL sitting on their lot today.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Agree with you. In theory, I am the target market for a Z4. But I think it is ugly as all heck, and I have no use for a folding metal top. And it is just a bit too expensive for a toy. So I ordered an M235i instead, and did seriously consider buying it as a convertible. But I don’t need two convertibles and it would keep me from doing any HPDE with BMWCCA.

        Sadly a lot of the reason that Boxster is still sitting there is probably the 6spd.

    • 0 avatar
      Phil A. Ofish

      That’s a good point. Young people swimming in college loan debt are not buying sportscars. Just making do with a ’98 Corolla.

  • avatar
    ccd1

    We are quickly reaching the point where trying to sell sports car based on “ring” times and 0-60 performance is just meaningless. Sports cars need to do more than just go fast or handle well. The Vette is a good example. There is a trunk which holds quite a bit, especially by sports car standards. The top is removeable and the trunk is design to hold the roof and still have some room.

    Journalists tended to trash the TT RS because they just looked at it as a track machine and there are better cars for the track. But just about everywhere else, it is a compelling package. Just finished a weekend trip in the car. The ride in normal setting does not beat you up, the engine noise is not too loud for long trips, the storage space is outstanding. My wife hates sports cars and she had to admit she likes this car better than the Mazda 6 it replaced.

    If sports cars are to have a future, they either have to be cheap enough for people to have them as garage toys or they have to be versatile

  • avatar

    If they didn’t hike-upthe price of the Z4 after introducing the 1-Series, sales of it may still be good, but it’s hard to justify the Z when there’s more capable and powerful options. It isn’t worth it new. Otherwise I’d own one.

  • avatar
    ccode81

    Fancier Miata gradually shifted to poorman’s boxster and lost sales..

  • avatar
    50merc

    Look, it’s a $50,000 toy. So there’s a mismatch between consumer desire and consumer buying power. I find myself in almost complete agreement with Psar, the main exception being that I doubt the ability of government to “adjust” the economy other than to mess it up.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I’m not necessarily expecting the government to make any kinds of adjustments, but I’m also not sure who else really could.

      The issue is that capital is very organized, highly mobile and relatively untaxed, while labour is very much immobile and difficult to organize on a trans-national scale.

      Changing that (eg, by opening borders to easy immigration, or allowing unions to federate transnationally, or by agreeing to standards of living across borders) pretty much requires government intervention, and capital has mostly got that all wrapped up.

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        Psar,
        Okay, you started out reasonably well: “The issue is that capital is very organized, highly mobile and relatively untaxed.” I’m not sure what you mean by very organized, but yes, it’s taxed less than labor overall. My buddy keeps his taxes down by claiming most of his income as profit rather than pay. He then skips a couple taxes. His effective rate goes from 25 to 22%.

        Unfortunately, you change your tune: “…while labour is very much immobile and difficult to organize on a trans-national scale.” If you stopped angling on useless Union nonsense and kept going you could get to the truth. Labor is HIGHLY regulated and HIGHLY taxed (regulation being effectively a tax).

        Once you state the problem without interjecting your desire for a solution, then you might get somewhere. I say less taxes and regulation on labor might be a better response than trying to chase capital away or into the shadows. There are likely solutions you might prefer, but international labor cartels won’t get you better parity without ossifying everything around them and effectively taxing everyone outside the cartels through higher, unjustified prices.

        As a Canadian, I suspect the Fair Tax scares you senseless for what it will do to your competitiveness, but something like that will benefit the U.S. greatly.

  • avatar
    Speed3

    Also, sport sedans (and even crossovers) drive better and faster and they can be used as a daily driver/grocery getter etc. The gap in performance isn’t as big as it used to be.

    People who are fortunate enough to have third or fourth weekend warrior probably have the means to get a proper sports car.

    • 0 avatar

      My 52 year old sister has an FR-S (bought new). Her husband, my brother in law, has an Audi TT (bought used, and is now >10 years old). (Both sports cars have sticks.) He also has a Lexus sedan (I can’t remember which one), and each kid got a used Honda Accord coupe in high school. There may be another old SUV in there somewhere. My brother in law uses them in his business.

      But I get the feeling my sister wishes she had a more practical sporty car, like a Subaru WRX, although she loves driving the FR-S.

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      They drive faster, but I’d say they feel more dull than they used to. But so do a lot of sports car, particularly the Z4. In which case, what’s the point?

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    The big issue i have with a sports car is that it is very hard to have fun on the road, you really do need to hit a track and TBH a season of serious go-karting is a HECK of a buzz.

    I get the urge to drive top down through some twisties for a weekend, but it makes way too much sense to just rent the dang thing.

    • 0 avatar
      Speed3

      Exactly. Road congestion is much worse in the U.S, especially around metro areas so rarely are you going to find a public road where you can push a car to its limits.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      “The big issue i have with a sports car is that it is very hard to have fun on the road, you really do need to hit a track and TBH a season of serious go-karting is a HECK of a buzz. ”

      This makes sense when we’re talking about 400+ hp Vettes, Vipers, etc, but honestly, not this class of roadster. They’re fun even if you’re just squirting through traffic or cruising along. You can pretty readily deploy 300 or less HP on an on-ramp, passing a car, etc, and have plenty of fun without attracting too much trouble.

      • 0 avatar
        VolandoBajo

        I have always liked cars that had a bit extra when driving. My current fun drive, believe it or not, is an almost twenty year old, mint condition Grand Marquis, which came with 200hp +/- 10 hp, depending on exhaust: single vs. dual. (I will be fixing that shortly).

        And it too deploys nicely on an on ramp, passing, etc., and corners almost perfectly flat on highway turns at road speeds and beyond.

        Yeah, mileage is a minor drag, but it would be in a true sports car also. And if I want more, I can beef the suspension (though it comes with sway bars front and back), and a host of other affordable mods I won’t enumerate here. And still have less in it than a decent “sports car”, plus I can fit a few adults in it, and haul a boatload of baggage.

        I live the styling on the Z3 and Z4, but tell me what I would gain in one that would offset the ability to haul more people and things, or to have a little fun hooning a bit in a supposedly old geezer sleeper? And the styling doesn’t look like every other imported and US midsize car does these days. Drivetrains may differ a bit, trim levels may differ a bit, but basic body dimensions and layouts almost all look alike in today’s modern cars.

        A sports car makes sense only as an n-th car, and as a rich man’s toy…not as a DD to commute to work in, or do things with the family. Barely a good choice for a bachelor, and senseless for a person with other things to care for, as well as his car.

        And in today’s economy, people are lucky to be able to afford n-1 cars, compared to twenty years ago. The sports car is the tail of the whip, the vehicle that drops off due to such cutbacks.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      A first or sevond gen Miata says otherwise.

  • avatar
    skor

    Even in the best of times, sports cars are a tiny niche market. Back in the 50s the Corvette nearly died on the vine, and GM only dumped more money into it after Ford had a fairly big hit with the original 2 seat T-Bird…which Ford was very careful not to call a sports car.

    Half the demographic that really wants a sports car (young men) can’t afford to buy one, or insure one for that matter. The other half of the sports car demographic (middle aged men) are too fat/out of shape to climb down into a sports car, or their SO won’t let them buy a sports car.

  • avatar
    Fred

    Personally with so many distracted drivers it’s scary to drive a little sports car out on the freeways, especially.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    Define a sportscar and the stats.
    The cayman boxter stats quoted are wrong. With the advent of the cayman GT4, a car which is finaly not a chick car sales have doubled. You dont see the stat yet because no cars have been delivered, yet this model is sold out.

    The z4 is ugly and bolated looking. Modern BMWs are bland to drive. So why would someone buy a z4, its not fun on the street, its heavy and pretty lame on track. A vette by comparison feels fast on street and for the 5% who go to the track its pretty good, plus a vette looks good.

    Miata, the new one out this year will sell great.

    Mustang sales up 300% they made a better car.

    The Z4 like the SLK are not expesive enough to sell on status, and not good enough to sell on performance, and they look like crap.

    BMW does make the I8 which is arguable a pretty good sprtscar, and it s way sold out.

    Make an appealing sportscar and it sells. Appeal means great design and or perofmance.

    If BMW made somehting liek the I8 without the electrics and the previous M3’s V8, my guess is ferrari and porche would have problems.

    The TT, the first version looked great, it was orgional and clean. It dorve Ok but its design was bauhaus superlative and it sold. Then the design morphed to more generic but the car got better. Well the performance you can get in a rs3 or a golf r for less money, and the Tt is not a design standout, so why buy one.

    Vette has looks and performance.
    Miata has standout performance in its category.
    Mustang has great eprformance and looks in its price range.

    The Z4 and TTrs, no standout performance and no great looks, so they dont sell. Its not rocket science.

    • 0 avatar
      ccd1

      Have you ever actually driven a TT RS?? So I guess a Porsche 997 911 S does not have standout performance either. The hp and torque are close, with the Porsche edging the RS is hp but having less torque.

      For the track, I’d take the Porsche. Everywhere else, I’d take the RS hands down

      • 0 avatar
        Marone

        Comparing cars based on numbers is useless. A Hellcat has more HP that those cars cars combined, but that doesn’t make it better. Even a faster 0-60 time doesn’t make it better. The Porsche 911 is in a whole different class of performance than the TT-RS. If I were shopping those two, I would look to the all around drivers experience and the package of the car. The RS is a very good car and a great choice, but the 911 is the clear winner.

        • 0 avatar
          ccd1

          And I’m sure you haven’t driven the Rs either. Well I cross shopped the RS against the 997 911 S. I drove both and chose the RS. Off the track the RS is the better car, IMHO. I can respect a difference of opinion if you have driven both cars. Otherwise you are just repeating a verdict by some auto scribe who probably only evaluated the RS as a track car.

          • 0 avatar
            Marone

            I’m sure you made the right choice for you. It’s cool, it’s a good car. You shouldn’t assume I haven’t driven both. You’d be mistaken.

          • 0 avatar
            ccd1

            Ok, you are entitled to your opinion, but for a lot of people, the 911 is not a clear winner . Now are there Porsches that would be a clear winner for me? Sure. If I had the money, I would have taken a 2009 turbo over my 2012 RS.

            I like turbos. The lag in modern turbos is gone for all intents. Generally turbos produce more torque and it usually kicks in the lower part of the rev range which is very useful on public roads. Naturally aspirated cars like most Porsches produce less torque and max torque is usually in the upper end of the rev range. That is well suited for the track, but less suited to the way most people drive on public roads. Then when a turbo car also has AWD, the car tends to perform better in non dry conditions.

            All gets down to what you value and how you drive, but the 911 S is hardly the clear winner

          • 0 avatar
            Marone

            I think I see part of the issue here. To say the Porsche torque is only on the high end is just false. The 3.8 flat 6 is a high revving engine. You just have to know your engine. Normal driving means you are right in the torque band all the time. If you’re running at 1500-2000rpm on a 911, you’re doing it wrong. Turbo guys seem to forget this and I hear it often. You also seem to imply the 911 is not a DD or road car, which, if that’s the case, you’re losing me on credibility. The 911 is arguably the best every day super cars on the road. I dream of having a 911 as a daily driver. Listen, they are both great engines, I personally think a 911 is approaching the super car category and that elevates it above the TT-RS. If you want to compare Audi’s the R8 is a far better competitor.

          • 0 avatar
            ccd1

            You have lost all credibility with me. Only one car in the 911 range qualifies as a super car and that is the turbo which competes with the R8 V10. The Carrera S cannot compete with either car.

            If you want to understand my point about torque, look at the curves for the S and the RS. The RS has over 300 lb ft of torque from below 3000 rpm almost all the way to the redline. The Carrera S can’t come close to this. A $1000 ecu upgrade makes the difference even greater. My car has closer to 400 peak torque. Those results would require a $15,000 turbo install in the Carrera S.

            Finally. You missed my point completely. I never said the S is not a good daily driver. What I did imply intentionally is that a superior track car is not necessarily a superior road car. Which is the case with the Carrera S. The car is not in a class above the RS, it’s a car with different characteristics that appeal to some more than others. I feel about the Carrera S the way you feel about the RS. That doesn’t make either of us right, we just value different things in our sports cars.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Ironically, BMW is partly to blame for this. The sports sedan brought handling to a more practical package. These days, it’s no longer necessary to compromise on utility in order to get something that works well when the road isn’t straight.

    • 0 avatar
      suspekt

      Totally 100% agree.

      I would never buy a 2 door if a 4 Door car can deliver 95% of the performance.

      I was looking at the new M3/M4 the other day at a BMW dealership. I honestly asked myself, which would I prefer…. the 2 door or the 4 door and with what transmission?

      Ultimately, its the M3 4 door in DSG that I would pick (if I was actually looking to spend $80,000CDN which I am not and never will).

      I think the cars that pique my interest the most nowadays are 5 seater sedans that have outrageous all-weather performance:
      – Audi S4
      – MB E550/E63 4matic

      I guess what I am really saying is:

      Please Acura give me a 4 door NSX under $75k
      – Mechanical or electric SH-AWD
      – 9 Speed DCT from NSX
      – Twin Turbo V6
      – Single Electric Motor mounted to engine crankshaft a la NSX

      Somewhere within the brain trust that is Acura, someone needs to realize they need a wide-body TLX with 450hp AWD to be taken seriously.

      And lets be honest, the TLX is a TSX replacement, not a TL replacement.

      What a frustrating brand.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I feel the opposite both from an aesthetic and practical point of view. My need to haul rear passengers is near zero and vehicles used to provide trunk space for light cargo. If I needed to haul passengers as you might, I would want a sedan. If a sport sedan actually existed with adequate rear passenger room and trunk space I’d buy it too, but they really don’t because a true “sports car” cannot also be a true family sedan. The statement being made trying to do both is a foolish one, as is the one where “I’m still cool with my 3er but I have to have room for my kids”. Parents just aren’t cool, never have never will be. What is happening essentially is a demographic shift away from models traditionally desired by men, some might argue men of means.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        For a personal car I prefer 2 or 3 doors. For the simple reason that I am big, but I prefer relatively small cars. Small 4-5dr cars have SMALL doors.

        Realistically if you need to carry significant numbers of people, you need a van. Anything smaller than an S-class sucks in the back anyway for full-size adults, and S/CUVs are not really any better.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Z4 got way more expensive. That can’t help.

    I do see this as part of a trend. 2 door coupes are dying too. You can get pretty darn good performance in something with room and 4 doors now. The image side of things down to seem to care so much that 4 doors are for old people, or whatever.

    Plus most new cars are already so fast and capable, and speed limits haven’t kept up. Pretty sure the same speed limit my mother drove in her Electra 225 is what is still there today while the 3 series she drives now is miles more capable in every way. I think older sports cars generally could still be pushed near their limits on a public road. Boxster or Z4 today? 120mph is no problem. So you end up with cars that can only be enjoyed in Germany or on a racetrack.

    I am interested to see how the Miata does. Back to NA weight. I could see it doing well, but the Miata problem isn’t that they’re not well priced or not loved… It’s that you can still find 20+ year old Miatas that still only require minimal upkeep and cost nothing to fix, and they’re just as fun as they ever were.

    Guess I just see a lot of changes in market and lifestyle and driving habits that have slowly shrunken the 2 door / sports car market.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      The speed limits I think are a main reason. Even the average econobox can well exceed exceed the post limits in just about any situation. The Miata is the only sportscar where you can have fun at close to legal speeds. Even the Miata poses an issue though, being on the road with modern cars. I was driving mine on a mountain road last week. I caught up to a 5 series. He was slowing down terribly in the twisities. When a straight turned up with a passing lane he would speed up, and the Miata’s engine didn’t have enough power to pass him. I think the only logical conclusion is to raise to speed limits more in line with the average capability of a modern car. Just think of the jobs we’d save at the sportscar factories.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    The destruction of performance hierarchies is what killed the sports car. Back in the 90s, there was clear separation. You wanted low 0-60 times and high grip, you had no choice but a sports car. Something like an M5 was weird and exotic.

    Now pretty much any mainstreamer with an honest to God V6 will give something like a Z a scare from a stoplight and torque steer to 60 in the mid 5 second range. Cars like the GTI, A3, Fiesta ST etc are in the ~0.95g range on the skidpad. Like Teddy Brukshot pleaded at the end of the movie Shottas, “WAT MORE YA WANT?” Yes, the sense of occasion and dynamic balance of a sports car are beyond reproach… the sensation of a low CoG and near zero polar moment just can’t be replicated by a mainstreamer. But on the flip side, in the daily grind that comprises 99.9% of driving for most folks, all that goes out the window for stuff like practicality etc.

    Like I’ve been saying I “downgraded” from a 350Z to a SOHC Civic and I don’t regret it at all. I do miss the Z’s dynamics but the Civic has its charms and is so much easier and cheaper to live with.

    Plus of course there is the death of the sports car as the status symbol… just too many things working against it. What really needs to happen in the US is the death of the law that forbids the sale of vehicles like the Ariel Atom. That is where the dynamic strides mainstreamers have made have taken the ground floor for the justifiable sports car experience. The removal of crash restrictions and such would also help drive down costs significantly too. I ride a motorcycle and would gladly dump my bike for a grown up go kart that provided the same level of engagement for the same or slightly higher cost.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      What Jerome10 and sportyaccordy said; though I would move the timeframe back to the rise of the European”sports sedans” of the 1980s.

      Prior to then, many full size cars handled like boats, giving sports cars a definite advantage. But now many four door sedans come close to matching a sports car within the legal speeds; while still being more practical. Even CUVs and some SUVs handle close to the limits most ordinary folks would dare push them to, thanks to today’s tires traction control, and ABS.

      You would have to take to the track to get the most out a sports car; while living with it’s shortcomings every day. Meanwhile, the 8/10s experience of many of today’s cars with fewer limitations work for most people.

    • 0 avatar
      KevinC

      I have a Z4M Coupe (’07) that I bought new, and has been paid for for years. My daily driver is an ’05 ZHP Coupe, which is a fantastic all-around car. I’m conflicted. Part of me wants to move on from the Z4M, and sink the $30k or so that it’s worth into a nice clean E39 M5. Part of me wants to hang onto it, since I’ve owned it since new, would never wind up buying another, and might one day regret letting it go. It’s the last car with the spectacular S54B32 motor, and lacks iDrive, any sort of automatic trans option, has older simple E46 electronics, etc. But it’s just not a practical car, and even as my second car, just isn’t floating my boat so much any more, as I get older (58 this year) and live in Phoenix (nice smooth roads, a stiffly sprung car won’t beat you up – but not many twisty parts to play in).

      Decisions, decisions. This article (and your post about your “downgrade”) has been fuel for more thought. That E39 M5 would make a real nice pair with the ZHP. Decisions, decisions.

    • 0 avatar

      The Z4 is an overpriced, over designed trollop which might look good on the Strand at Cannes, or maybe Vegas. It isn’t a “sportscar”.

      I mean, it exists for one of the tiny niches BMW is so good at locating, but how many West Coast Trophy wives (and I’m sure this niche is also in other nations) are there ? There won’t be any crossover with BMW Club events.

      Sportscars require a society with some excess money for fun stuff. In the 60-70’s, working class guys could buy a musclecar. The were cheap for a reason, but it was a legit market. Most millenials I know drive crap because the money has dried up for 99 % of us….yes, they DO know better, daddy had a mercedes, the high school BFF’s dad had a big BMW, but now that we are on our own, with huge student loans, and living 5 to a room in Brooklyn, a sportcar is up there with that trip to Down Under and a job with health insurance as happening soon. NOT

      • 0 avatar
        This Is Dawg

        Lol damn holmes. You could start by moving out of Brooklyn….

        As for the Z4, eh. I value styling more than most it seems, but I think the Z4 hardtop is a fantastic looking little ride. Within limits, I’d buy the better looking competitor to the class leader 9 times out of 10.

  • avatar
    ...m...

    …the current Z4 isn’t a sportscar, it’s a boulevard cruiser and accordingly shunned by the sportscar market…if BMW wishes to understand its sales, they must examine the market previously served by the thunderbird, SC430, XK, crossfire, and SL…

  • avatar
    MrGrieves

    You’re basically at eye-level with the tailpipe of the typical monster SUV or pickup. First guy who “rolls coal” right next to you when your top is down will prove that the charm of a sports car is overrated.

  • avatar
    carve

    The problem with the Z4 is that the 3-series it was based on actually outperformed it, and was way more practical to boot. It’s not a sports-car; it is an extensive, unpractical fashion statement.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Not at all. Previous Z4 was about 300-400lb lighter than a 3 with the same engine and significantly lower too, resulting in a dynamic curb stomping and appreciable performance boost. Problem with the Z4 is the same problem as any sports car, just amplified by the existence of the 3- for the driving most folks do the dynamic superiority of a sports car over a sedan will never be realized enough to justify the higher costs AND lower practicality. But in pretty much every sports car/sedan combo (i.e. 3/Z4, Nissan G/Z etc) the sports car retains an appreciable edge in measured performance and driving engagement.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    It is all about choices. A used M3 is cheaper and faster and if you want a convertible, the 3 series offers a nice one. Who is your buyer for a Z4 anyway? Maybe he is at an auction buying a collector car for his weekend rather than that. Running a ten year old design out there and pretending it is the buyer’s fault they are not selling is excuse making at a politician’s level. Has he seen the new Corvette? Sheesh.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I love the Z4 Coupe version, never liked convertibles despite living in FL where I could actually use it year round. Always preferred smaller, toss-able, quick cars. Prelude Si, Eclipse GS-T and now a 350Z. Wife next car could very well be a TT as she is small hatchback fan too. Hyundai in the game now too so there is some hope for sports cars. However its a dieing breed, everyone wants “outdoor lifestyle” vehicles now, yet they never go off pavement. Oh well, less people in the way on my track days so I’m fine with it.

  • avatar
    carguy

    BMW shouldn’t blame market decline for the Z4’s woes. A big problem with the current Z4 is that:

    1. It is $10K more expensive than the last version. The market for $50K+ 4 cylinder roadsters is not very big.

    2. It has an identity crisis. The Porsche Boxster is a drivers car while the SLK is a comfortable cruiser. What exactly is the Z4? It’s nowhere near as capable as the Boxster and nowhere near as comfortable as the SLK, making a product for BMW fanbois only.

    3. The 228i and M235i convertible are both cheaper, more practical and (IMHO) better looking.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    Mustangs are not sports cars, doesn’t matter how many times people say it.

    The UK did well the US sports car market from the late 40s the early 70s.

    Then with required safety, emissions and market required flim flam + the
    and domestic manufacturing issues, they stopped development and left.

    There was also the threat of the cars being banned in the US, the market was already dwindling and never really came back.

    At the low end of the market Miata is probably the only viable car,even that is getting kind of plump.

    Unless it’s a true racing car like F1 or Indycar, or an oddball like an Ariel Atom or Caterham open top cars are nearly always going to be slower.

  • avatar

    The practical hatchbacks have become much better performance-wise. Golf GTi’s and Renault Megane RS’s will be quicker around a race track than 10 year old Porsches, Z4’s and Nissan 350’s.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    When the Z3 came out, after 24 months you could throw a rock in the air in Houston at the Comnpaq campus and hit one.

    Why is the roadster market sinking?

    * The price points on many of these cars is out of the budgetary reach of their target markets – people like to point out how balding old guys buy Corvettes – because balding old guys can afford Corvettes – the SLK is bought by the Dixie Wetworths of the world, same reason

    * Many of these are “second cars” or “weekend toys,” and the idea of owning multiple cars for different things is viewed dimly by Millennials and growing ranks of Generation X

    * Growing traffic, congestion, and law enforcement makes driving cars like this recreational decidedly unfun. From my own experience (don’t own a roadster) when I’m sitting in Puget Sound bumper-to-bumper in the G8 I think to myself the car is kind of pointless. A VW microbus would work crawl along in traffic equally well.

    * Millenials have a dim view on home ownership, and owning a second car requires typically a house, and a driveway, and if it’s a roadster, a garage.

    * Many of these cars are overpriced – or are perceived as being overpriced. Porsche has the most egregious option pricing on the Boxter. Audi, Mercedes, and BMW aren’t all that far behind. Go to LT3 and Z51 on a Corvette IIRC you’re over $70K. A stripper Z4 sDRIVE28i is $49K. That 328i or 428i is a lot more attractive for that kind of money. A stripper Audi TT starts at $52K – that’s A6 money.

    * Buyers don’t want cars anyway – they want pickups, SUVs and CUVs. Look at Porsche’s top seller as People’s Exhibit A, and how hot hatch, fun coupe inventors Toyota and Honda basically don’t even play in the space anymore. Honda’s top seller is the CR-V. If you went back to 1990 and told the Millennial putting a coffee can muffler on his Civic that he would have a chubby for a glorified Civic platformed lifted station wagon, he’d laugh in your face – but that’s what most of them are buying these days.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Great post.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      “* Growing traffic, congestion, and law enforcement makes driving cars like this recreational decidedly unfun.”

      This. We have largely the same road infrastructure that we did 100 million people ago when I started driving, and they were already overcrowded then, and on top of that there’s another 30 years of incremental Helen Lovejoyism written into the traffic laws.

      An engaging car without an engaging drive is more frustration than fun.

      • 0 avatar
        ccd1

        It’s worse than that. Because sports cars are sold based on track times and 0-60 times, far too little thought is given to making a sports car fun to drive at legal speeds

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Past success is also a reason for the decline, because it is very easy to find a low mileage 8 to 10 year old version of any of these cars at a much lower price with virtually identical performance and nearly the same appearance. Unlike the old days of Austin Healeys, MGs, E-Types, and 240Zs, used Z4s, SLKs, Boxsters, and 370Zs will not be rust buckets and in need of mechanical rebuilds after only a few years, so there really isn’t any reason to buy new except for a warranty and bluetooth connectivity.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    IMO, the biggest problem for the Z4 and sports cars of its ilk is the used car market. 10-15 years ago when these cars came out, if you wanted a Boxster/SLk/Z3 type car, it was either Miata, or buy it new from BMW/Porsche/MB. Then you drive it 2-3-5k miles a year, it depreciates like a stone, and your $50k car is worth $25k with 15k miles on it.

    These days, even if I’m a relatively wealthy buyer, I can go down to the BMW/Porsche/MB store, and I can either order myself a new car, and wait for it, and pay $60k+, or I can select some cherry, barely-driven car languishing on the lot that they will BEG to sell me for $25-30k. For the way these things are used, it just doesn’t make sense to pay new prices. Heck, I’m outside the demographic for these things (33, have a young kid, not rich enough) and even we have two daily drivers that were bought new and a sports car that was bought used (though mainly because I couldn’t buy a 9k RPM S2000 when I was ready to buy in 2007.)

  • avatar
    ccd1

    If you look at new car introductions, manufacturers thinks sports cars are only for the wealthy. In the $100-200K range we have had the new NSX, the GT S, the i8 and a new McClaren. The GT4 is almost in that range with options

    Can’t think of anything introduced well under this range other than the new Miata and F Type

  • avatar
    Chan

    Note to BMW: The Z3 started at under $40k.

    The Z4 starts at around $50k.

    Talk all you want about inflation, but buying power has not kept up.

  • avatar
    See 7 up

    Lots of good opinions, but I’ll add

    It is a 6 (basically 7) year old car, introduced in 2009.
    SLK – revised in 2011.
    Boxster – 2012 (with newer, highly desired, variants since so its still basically “fresh”

    On that alone, why would anyone buy it compared to its very good competition? If I am spending $50K+, I want my car to look newer than the one my neighbor has had for 5 years.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Some of it has to do with the fact that models like the Z4 and Z are old, but even fairly new models like the BRZ and FR-S have been struggling in sales.

    Not surprising due to the advent of sportier “4-door coupes”, much less “coupe-styled” crossovers.

    The Miata should see a sales hike with the new model, but would not be surprised if after a year or 2, sales decline by a good bit.

    The exception to this seems to be American “muscle” – some of it is due to the power of nostalgia but a lot of it has to do with the “bang for the buck” American muscle brings to the table (also, aside from the Vette, the pony cars are more practical than most sports cars).

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    My wife’s 2006 Z4 3.0si had a sticker of about $40k when new. It was the top of the line as far as non-M Z4s went.
    A 2015 Z4 3.5is stickers starting at $65k.

    And the problem is, the current Z4 is not a better sports car than the old one. So why am I to spend that extra $25k to get a new one?

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    In 2008, baby boomers were starting to retire en masse. I have only two anecdotal data points, but I have doubts that they are isolated experiences.

    1. My boss; his youngest finally went off to college. He and his wife sold their sprawling house with multiple car garage and moved to a high-rise condo downtown with just a single parking space.

    2. My parents; dad wants to downsize into something small and easy to take care of so they can spend all their time traveling. Mom wants a yard and basement, but dad is the one who has to take care of it all. If dad wins, the three cars they currently own will be reduced to one. If mom wins, dad will be spending too much time taking care of a yard and house to go driving anywhere.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Sports cars are dying out because there is no place to drive them anywhere near their limit except the track. The highway system is essentially the same as it was 40 years ago. My Porsche 996 supposedly top ends at almost 170 mph, but I can’t even think of a handy place to try that.

    • 0 avatar
      ccd1

      There is this disconnect between how sports cars are actually used and how they are marketed. Like the majority of sports car owners, I do not track my car. Top speed does not matter to me because, like you, there is no place to responsible go that fast on public roads. 0-60 times are rapidly becoming meaningless because all these cars are so freaking quick.

      A modern sports car need to be enjoyable at legal speeds. It should, IMHO, remind you in a good way why you spent your money on a sports car rather than something more pedestrian. The irony is that the current focus on stats like those mentioned above and track times can lead to a car that is less suited or enjoyable for public roads.


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