By on July 9, 2013


In the first six months of 2013, the volume achieved by America’s auto industry was 5% smaller than it was in the first six months of 2003. This is an important statistic, one which goes a long way in understanding how America’s appetite for the smallest German roadsters (and hardtops, and hardtop roadsters) has dwindled.

In the whole of 2003, the Audi TT, BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLK, and Porsche Boxster accounted for 0.24% of the new vehicle market. So far this year, with assistance from the Porsche Cayman and the not-so-German Jaguar F-Type, this group is responsible for just 0.12% of the new vehicle market.

June 2013
June 2012
June % Change
6 mos. 2013
6 mos. 2012
YTD % Change
Audi TT
173 190 – 8.9% 994 1142 – 13.0%
204 240 – 15.0% 1396 1412 – 1.1%
Jaguar F-Type
417 576
Mercedes-Benz SLK
312 301 + 3.7% 2305 2264 + 1.8%
Porsche Boxster
423 464 – 8.8% 2727 624 + 337%
Porsche Cayman
388 26 + 1392% 1205 401 + 200%
1221 + 57.0% 9203 5843 + 57.5%

This isn’t a judgement on the sports car industry. Porsche, for example, will sell more 911s this year than in 2003. As much as anything, it says something about the BMW Z4’s fall from great heights. 20,182 were sold in 2003, enough to outdo the TT, SLK, and Boxster combined.

Nevertheless, this does all sound too pessimistic, particularly given the warm welcome afforded to the new Jaguar F-Type. With its $69,000 base price, the Jag can’t decide whether it wants to take on the 911 or Boxster. With 417 sales in June, it very nearly outsold the less costly Porsche, and it did manage to sell more frequently than the TT, Z4, SLK, and Cayman.

Don’t interpret this to be a surefire sign of long-term success. Sales in this category swing upward and downward whimsically. For instance, the Boxster’s June decline, though slight, points to the suddenness with which growth can be stymied. On sale in its third-gen iteration for a year now, the Boxster’s streak of twelve consecutive months of year-over-year growth came to a halt in June. The Cayman, finally readily available in second-generation form, must have something to do with that.

42% of the 1917 sales represented here came from the two Porsches. Yet Porsche’s greater success was found with the 911, which outsold the mid-engined twins by seven units last month. And Porsche’s greatest volume was achieved with the Cayenne, which generated 49% of Porsche sales, and did so by finding more than 700 buyers for the Cayenne Diesel and Cayenne GTS.

Back to the subject of the F-Type, it’s important to remember that its success or failure is of much greater consequence at Jaguar than, say, the Z4’s would be at BMW. Indeed, Mercedes-Benz’s reliance on the SLK is virtually nonexistent, and though Audi can present the TT as a style icon, the brand will not rise and fall with its U.S. sales improvement or even the TT’s disappearance.

Only 1% of the BMWs sold in the United States this year have been Z4s; only 1.6% of the Benzes have been SLKs; only 1.3% of the Audis were TTs. Meanwhile, at Jaguar, with only one proper month of selling under its belt, the F-Type is already responsible for 7.4% of the company’s American sales this year.

The F-Type sold very nearly as often as the XJ in June and roundly trounced the XK – by a 3.3-to-1 count – last month. Fully one-quarter of Jaguar’s volume in June came from the F-Type. In June 2012, without the F-Type, Jaguar accounted for just 22% of Jaguar-Land Rover U.S. volume. One year later, with the F-Type, Jaguar attracted 32% of Jaguar-Land Rover clientele.


Independent analyst Timothy Cain is the founder and editor of

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39 Comments on “Cain’s Segments: Where Did All The German Roadsters Go?...”

  • avatar

    I like the new F-type, would love to see a coupe version, but that price is outrageous, especially when the base model only comes with a V6 that, while supercharged, is only marginally more powerful the your run of the mill $24k Mustang or Camaro….. Let’s not even get into the whole Corvette argument, especially with the new one right around the corner.

    More or less, these cars use to be bought with strong middle class money as 3rd vehicle toys. A lot of that wealth is gone, and any kind of recovery effort has been a joke in generating it back.

  • avatar

    First off, the XK-F is new. And the first Jaguar sports car in . . . how long, already?

    The falling of the Z4 is most likely from its transitioning from a real sports car to even more comfort oriented boulevardier. Sports car fans want real sports cars, even if the definition becomes more and more comfortable as time goes on.

    The Mercedes SLK holds (relatively) strong because its always been a boulevardier. As well as the first choice of a well-cared-for mistress, and or middle aged former trophy wife. There’s been no dumbing down of that car over the decades.

    The Porsche’s tumbled when the economy tanked. While their numbers are smaller, they’re still holding steady. As should one of the few real mass-market sports cars out there.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      As the owner of the “last” Z3, I think you’re spot on regarding the Z4, which, despite being “better” than the Z3, never sold as well, I believe. Lots of this has to do with price. When introduced, the Z3 was priced somewhat above the Miata but well below the 911. The initial criticism (fair) was that, for the money, it barely offered any straight line speed advantage over the Miata and was not nearly as tossable. As is always the case, more power and scrapping the 4 cylinder engine solved the first problem and a staggered wheel setup mostly solved the . . . um . . . interesting handling characteristics of the trailing arm rear suspension.

      Unfortunately, the price went up along with the improvements.

      However, while the Z3 was frankly retro in styling, with the driver sitting just ahead of the rear axle, the Z4 was pretty much a “whatsit” outside and in.

      Under the best of circumstances, the roadster market is small and quirky . . . and very price sensitive. These cars are toys, and when the financial belt needs to be tightened, the toys are the first to go.

      • 0 avatar

        If i may ad: These are toys for people who actually sense difficult times. Not toys for the uber-rich, they keep on buying those Lamborghini x-fighter 1200 special.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah. A lot of folks who could justify a Z4 in 2006 (base MSRP 35k) can’t really justify it in 2013 (base MSRP 47k). These are second cars to begin with, in most cases, and you can make a big difference in your primary ride for those kind of dollars.

        If you take the Z4 out of that chart, the trends aren’t really all that dramatically different from the overall sales trends in the auto industry.

    • 0 avatar

      “Sports car fans want real sports cars, even if the definition becomes more and more comfortable as time goes on”

      Sad, but true. My first car was an Austin-Healey Sprite (Mark III). Comfort was never any part of it – unless you thought roll-up windows and sun visors (major changes from the Mark II) represented comfort.

      The Z is the only BMW I have truly lusted over. But, today, I worry that I might be able to get into it, but might not be nimble enough to get out…..

  • avatar

    Isn’t the whole roadster market (not just German) dwindling? Why not ask where the Japanese roadsters went?

    • 0 avatar

      redav – – –

      Sales data from “” show that most Japanese “sports” cars are not declining, at least within 2013. I can’t speak to longer term trends, but if I remember, all sales in that segment are now above 2012 levels. And sales of the FR-S/BRZ twins are virtually exploding. Here are some 2013 slope data, in units per month for the USA, — with the BMW Z4, 911, and Boxster tossed in as comparisons:

      Nissan GT-R……….6.9
      Mazda Miata………37.0
      Nissan 370Z………30.0
      Scion FR-S…………48.1
      Subaru BRZ………..33.1

      BMW Z4…………….10.3
      Porsche 911………-3.9 (a decline)
      Porsche Boxster……6.1

      No, many of these cars are not true “roadsters”, but I am using the categories that I have available. I should also note that the new Cayman has a 2013 rate-of-growth of 48.7, the highest of all, but that slope is distorted by the Cayman having had essentially NO sales in January, February, and March of this year: it does not represent true equilibrium sales growth.


      • 0 avatar

        The article is about the comparison of today’s sales with that of a decade ago. Year-over-year numbers are too erratic to get a sense of the bigger trend.

        • 0 avatar

          redav – – –

          Yeah, I know. But I could only offer what I had easily available within 2013 and a remembrance 0f 2012. Perhaps I could find some sales data on some of these same Japanese marques from 5 years ago (as compared to now), if I have time….

          I should note that the FR-S and BRZ would not exist then, but the fact that Toyota and Subaru felt that such a car was worth it argues in favor of the increasing, not declining, potential for sports cars/roadster, if done economically and reliably.


      • 0 avatar

        re:Cayman – new model introduction may explain lack of 1st quarter sales. 987.2 replaced by 981 – more features, more power, new body, more bucks. 911s (991s) are $90K-$130K, Caymans are $60K-$100K. Its a wonder they sell many. The price can go up if you insist on the the leather-wrapped water-pump or other (non-fake) must-have options……

  • avatar

    Second look at the second-hand market? The number of Z-series and SLK-class roadsters that can be had for extremely modest money (I’m talking less than $15k now) is pretty high in Atlanta. If you’re not buying one of these for a daily driver (and most people who can afford them new don’t), why wouldn’t you buy one used with economic conditions what they are?

    When you can buy an SLK32 AMG for around $20k (or less), why pay new car prices for something less powerful that can only depreciate AND add a hefty insurance requirement?

  • avatar

    Roadsters are noisy, hot, and a giant pain in the ass. Plus, Germans have been overpricing theirs for a while.

    • 0 avatar

      You think $101k for a Boxster S (see August issue of Road & Track) or $80k+ for a Z4 is overpriced? Why those prices seem very reasonable for a second or third car to me. [Lights cigar with $100 bill.]

      All sarcasm aside, judging by the pricing of their cars, I think the Germans must be high on paint fumes or Zoloft. I own a 3 year old BWM 135i that I absolutely love. But to replace it with an identical car today would cost close to $50k. $50k for a 1 Series! Insane.

    • 0 avatar

      romanjetfighter – – –

      Let’s enlarge this a bit more objectively, with regard to my older Z4 3.0si – – –
      1) Noisy? Yes, guilty. But it can be a good thing to hear a melodious exhaust!
      2) Hot? (I assume you meant thermally). Actually, where I drive, they are cool (thermally).
      3) Pain? Absolutely. It’s part of the mystique: you just put up with it. Is a Morgan 3-wheeler a pain?
      ………but what about —
      4) Fun? Boatloads-worth!
      5) Performance? Outstanding. Try doing a right-hand city corner at 35 mph in a Civic…
      6) Fuel Mileage? 34 mpg is not so bad for a 265 HP car, now is it?
      7) Chick magnet? Well, maybe, but I usually get ignored. (Must be the bald head..)
      8) Repair costs? Bad. Oh well, we can’t have everything…. (^_^)…


      • 0 avatar
        Land Ark

        NMGOM –
        Since you didn’t start your own thread I am forced to piggy back off this, but it’s ok since I can chime in to the original topic too.
        My wife has an ’06 3.0si and from riding with her I will say:
        1) I had never thought about noise in it, so I guess I never noticed it being any noisier than anything else – though the cars I own should preclude me from that conversation.
        2) Her’s gets nuclear hot when parked outside (black on black on black) but the AC cools it down real fast when I am moving it around to free a space in the garage. And I am not a top down guy but when I have riden with her with it down, I didn’t think it was hot while we were moving.
        3) This was my main question: Do you have the M seats? She does and me being of slight build (5′ 10″ ~160 lbs) I find that I cannot seem to fit my butt in the seat comfortably with my wallet in my back pocket and trying to get in and out around the bolsters is something I doubt I’ll be able to do with the top up as I age.
        4-5) She loves it, I find it impressive. Cornering being the most notable thing for me.
        6) That’s not why she got it
        7) Looking at it in profile it looks exactly like the head of a penis.
        8) We’ve managed to dodge that bullet so far – luckily I’m fairly handy. But I am mystified by oil changes for it. Any advice there? I told her she’s likely gonna have to take it in.

  • avatar

    I would love to see a demographic chart showing the sex of the buyers. Nothing kills a sports car’s desirability faster than it becoming a “chick car”. These smaller cars trend that way pretty quickly because they are often “cute” and because men can’t fit in them. I recently sat in a Z4 and found less comfort than in a Miata. I had to put the seat back to the stops in both. It used to make sense to ignore the over 6’2″ crowd but not anymore. You lose too many healthy and wealthy men from your demo if you do that.

    Next to see a big hit if my theory is correct – the 911. Last week I saw 5 of them being driven by women. Most of them not even very attractive women. It may have been a quirk, but the 911 has traditionally been a man’s car.

    • 0 avatar

      My wife drives a non-turbo, Tiptronic, Cabrio 996. This is the chick car version of the 911, esp. when said chick loves to drive hell for leather as befits the daughter of a Polish cavalry officer. Most 911s are masculine, though.

      • 0 avatar

        Nope. Party is over. One of the last men’s clubs has been lost.

        My wife is precisely the type to do that sort of thing as well. She played men’s tennis in school. I don’t blame the girls for wanting to be in the club. We only have ourselves to blame.

  • avatar

    My theory: the prices of these vehicles have outpaced normal people’s ability to buy them. There will always be very wealthy people buying 911s and such, but the Z3, TT, Boxster, etc. used to be “somewhat” affordable to people not making a boatload of cash.

    One car magazine just tested a Cayman S that had a list price of over $100k. That’s nuts expensive. A SLK350 easy on the options is approaching $65k. Normal people can’t afford that kind of MSRP, especially for a 3rd car.

  • avatar

    A number of things happened:

    1. The roadster fad faded and the cool factor is now with other niches. Roadsters seem to mainly reserved for enthusiasts, the recently divorced or chronic mid-life crisis sufferers.

    2. Many manufacturers got confused about the purpose of the product – in particular BMWs Z4. Is it a luxury cruiser or is it a raw sports car? It’s neither and that is why it sells badly.

    3. The price of the of the European roadsters went through the roof while the average wage went backwards.

    • 0 avatar

      carguy – – –

      As a 2007 Z4 owner, I can say that all three of your observations are “spot on”:
      1) Yes, I am an enthusiast, a divorcé, and a chronic late-life crisis sufferer.
      2) The new BMW Z4 is the most confused, cross-purposed, oxymoronic car I have ever seen. Where is the manual transmission? That it sells at all is amazing.
      3) Amen. $70K for a small sports car? Nowadays? No wonder the FR-S, 370Z, and Miata are doing well. (See my sales data response to “redav” above).


  • avatar

    One factor could be longevity. People who buy these cars seldom use them as a daily driver, and they spend most of their time well protected in a garage. This means that they tend to last a very long time and don’t need replacing, hence fewer sales.

  • avatar

    I will tell you what happened to roadsters… CUVs and the disappearance of disposable income. Also, the increased robustness of used cars. There are still 15 year old Z3s and 20 year old Miatas doing daily driver duty on American roads today. It’s a new era.

  • avatar

    so is this the one segment where BMW’s drift away from its enthusiast base has actually hurt sales? While I’d say the current z4 is the best looking example, I’d still never buy one. I’d get a CPO previous gen (in either M or non M guise) instead.

  • avatar

    Those are pretty fascinating statistics. I didn’t realize the drop in sales was so pronounced.

    I think you all pretty much covered the various reasons, so I’ll just add my thoughts on the Jaguar F type: some have said that it’s caught in between the small German roadsters and the 911, but I think this may be a good thing. Most people who really want a 911 or Boxster or Cayman are going to get one. But I think the Jag is going to be bought as an alternative to the Mercedes SL and the XF’s brother, the XK. I think the XK’s problem is that it has always been less prestigious then the SL but only a bit less expensive. The F-type, however, may still be a bit less prestigious, but it’s a good bit less expensive than the SL. I believe it’s a bit larger than cars like the Boxster, Z4 and SLK, and only a little smaller than the SL.

    The next XK is going to be shockingly good and irresistible if it’s going to sell well against the F-type; it’ll probably need to get larger and roomier, which I think is the plan.

    • 0 avatar

      The next XK will need several things. First and foremost, it will have to offer a real back seat. The current joke of a back seat will not serve to differentiate it from the F Type. Second, Jag will have to decide on an identity for the new car. The space it now holds will be mostly taken up by the F-Type, especially when the coupe is available next Summer. So Jag will have to figure out what the XK should be and where it will fit in their lineup

  • avatar

    When these cars were introduced in the mid ’90s, they revived the sports car market that seemed to be dying as a result of the 300Z TT, Supra Turbo, 3000GT VR4, and RX-7 having become expensive exercises in technology overkill. Compared to the Japanese GTs of the day, they were often less expensive, less powerful, less gadget and gimmick laden, more restrained in terms of add-on aerodynamic doohickeys, and represented a return to simple sports cars. Now, they’re German versions of the cars they replaced. I’m not surprised the market has lost interest once again.

  • avatar

    I feel like there has to be a kind of structural story going on here as well…


    – traffic is worse and roadsters are less fun because of it
    – traffic enforcement is more aggressive and roadsters are less fun because of it
    – roads are getting worse and roadsters are less fun because of it

    or else demographics:

    – “echo baby boom” means more young people, which means either more people at the beginning of their careers (compact car or used market) or more young families (wagon/family sedan/CUV).
    – people work longer hours and don’t have time to tool around with recreational cars

    any of that sound reasonable?

  • avatar

    Having looked into buying a car in this market, I understand why the cars are not selling. The cars are expensive and generally offer little utility. And the OEMs market them as if utility did not matter. Am I the only person in America that does most of his driving while running errands and expect a car to have at least enough storage space for a weekend getaway with my wife???

    The new Cayman has much better interior room for driver and passenger, but now will not accommodate ONE regular sized golf bag (the old Cayman could fit two such bags). So, for many people Porsche found a way to make the car both more expensive and less practical.

    These are expensive cars, but not cars which are restricted to millionaires who can afford garage toys. These cars need to do more than just go fast and most of them don’t really do anything but go fast.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    The German roadsters have become SUVs like the Cayenne, X3/5.

    People are now looking for versatility from vehicles, by the looks of it even the rich.

  • avatar

    I have to agree this is a small market these days. Most of the cars are now very expensive to buy, insure & keep serviced. Also most are overloaded with gadgets that most people never use. When i was a kid we had MG’s and other small sport cars that were fun to drive (When they were running)but the English factories stopped making them including other cars and we now have overpriced sport cars with very little utility. The last car that i used on the weekends and to haul lumber home from Home Depot was a VW Mk1 Cabriolet that i should never had sold. I brought a 1991 Miata last month with 70,000 miles that was a garage queen for a fair price and i now have my weekend sport car. I now at the age of 76 have a convertible sport car that i can afford and have some fun. Have to use my hatchback for Home Depot runs now.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    It’s worth noting that a lot of these roadsters have reputations of being for stodgy old men with money. Jaguar seems to be trying hard to shirk that reputation with its F-Type, but will nevertheless fail because Jaguars are by default for older people.

    • 0 avatar

      Come on now – what’s the 60k+ car for “young’ people? LMAO..

      Convertibles just aren’t popular in general. C ad D have talked a lot about this.. One of those most popular ones is a corvette – and the take rate is only 1/4 of sales.

      Convertibles are less practical, they lack rigidity, they cost more.. Actually in California I see lots of convertibles – just hardly any one using them. Outside of the nice drives – most people just keep the top up..

  • avatar

    My theory: douchebags’ wives moved on to GLKs and such which didn’t exist in 2003.

  • avatar

    Do believe that 2004 or 2005 was the year that the 1 Dollar went from =’ing 1.2 Euro’s to 0.8 Euros (in a few months), they were always niche, just became a much more expensive niche quickly.

  • avatar

    This segment frustrates me. There has been a breakdown in what a roadster should be and it shows. The Cayman goes from golf bag friendly to not so. Who does that? The Jag XK has joke rear seats that do not fold down. Who does that??? The TT-RS is a needlessly spartan package for a $60k plus car. Audi has plenty of good nav units but the one in the TT_RS is not one of them. This car would never get my wife’s seal of approval. And let’s not talk about the value equation for any of these cars. Without exception, Camcords offer better amenities than these cars (And if you think Jag is the exception, read any review on their archaic infotainment system)

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