Among Sports Cars, New Beats Old: FR-S Hits New Low As MX-5 Takes Over

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
among sports cars new beats old fr s hits new low as mx 5 takes over

November 2015 produced the lowest full-month U.S. sales total for the Scion FR-S in its history.

November 2015 also produced the sixth consecutive year-over-year Mazda MX-5 Miata monthly sales increase; November was also the fifth consecutive month in which the Mazda MX-5 outsold the Scion FR-S.

The FR-S and MX-5 are clearly not direct rivals. One is sold exclusively as a coupe with rear seats; the other is a two-seat convertible.

But the comparison between the pair, like the forthcoming comparison between the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, is pertinent because of the contrast between old and new. From June 2012, the first full month of availability of the FR-S, through June 2015, the Scion was the fresher sports car parked outside A&W on a Thursday night. However, it suffered from the same malady that typically afflicts most sports cars early on in their tenure: DDDD. Drastically Decreased Demand Disorder.

U.S. FR-S sales peaked at 18,327 units in 2013. (Subaru sold 8,587 BRZs in 2013 and has generally suffered from the same trend as its Scion partner.) FR-S sales slid 23 percent in 2014, the FR-S’s second full year of availability. With the book on 2015 nearly closed, year-over-year volume is down 25 percent, a loss of 3,309 sales over the course of 11 months.

On the flip side, the MX-5 is surging thanks to the launch of the hyped fourth-generation ND roadster. Between 2006, when the third-generation MX-5 was a new car, and 2012, when the FR-S arrived, MX-5 Miata sales plunged 63 percent in America. Between the FR-S’s May 2012 launch and June 2015, prior to the fourth-generation MX-5’s launch, the Scion outsold the Mazda by nearly three-to-one in the United States.

After averaging more than 1,400 monthly sales heading into 2015, however, the FR-S began the year with three sub-900-sales months and has seen volume slip on a month-to-month basis in each of the last four months. Year-over-year, FR-S sales have fallen in 25 consecutive months.

Since July, 4,171 copies of the FR-S have been sold. Mazda USA reported 5,231 MX-5 Miata sales during the same period, with sales in August (1,344) rising to the highest level since May 2008. Again, the point of the comparison isn’t to highlight the popularity of the MX-5 relative to the FR-S, but rather to make very clear the evidence of DDDD which oppresses virtually every sporting car. The rapid rate with which the FR-S has fallen manifests a particularly egregious form of DDDD, but DDDD has attacked the MX-5 Miata in the past, and it will do so again.

Less unsettled by the same ailment are America’s highest-volume sporting cars: the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro. For five consecutive years, the Chevrolet Camaro sold more than 80,000 copies in the United States, never climbing to the 89,000 mark but never falling lower than 80,567 units. Indeed, in the final full year for the fifth-generation Camaro, 2014, sales rose to the fifth-gen’s second-highest total, marking a fifth consecutive year in which the Camaro outsold the Ford Mustang.

Age has had an impact on the Camaro in 2015, as general consumers and the Bowtie muscle car loyalists became aware of the sixth-generation car’s impending arrival; as Ford’s sixth-generation Mustang became fully available last winter. But General Motors will still easily sell more than 75,000 Camaros in 2015, hardly the kind of 25-percent decline reported by the nearly four-year-old FR-S. Indeed, with the clear-out of 2015 Camaros in full stride in November and new, sixth-gen 2016 Camaros arriving, Camaro volume last month jumped 21 percent.

That 21-percent uptick coincided with a sharp 17-percent decrease from the Ford Mustang, the first year-over-year decline reported by the sixth-gen Mustang. More than speaking to the Mustang’s inability to deal with a new Camaro – the Mustang still outsold the Camaro by almost 2,000 units in November – the decline recalled the degree to which Mustang sales exploded to an unusually high early winter performance at this time last year. Mustang sales in November 2015 were still 56 percent higher than the November average from 2010-2013.

Further upmarket, Porsche and Chevrolet are able to hold annual 911 and Corvette sales on a somewhat more even keel. But these are iconic exceptions to the rule. Nissan Z sales are down by a quarter compared with 2010, when the Z was fresh and the market was much, much smaller. Porsche Boxster sales spiked to an eight-year high when it was new in 2013, but sales in 2015 are down by a third compared with 2013. Back down the ladder, the Hyundai Veloster is down by a third compared with 2012, its first full year.

Meanwhile, back at Mazda, even the stirring second-half pace achieved by the MX-5 in 2015 is 26 percent slower than the rate of sales achieved in 2006.

The sports car isn’t dead, nor is it dying. But there’s sufficient evidence supplied to automakers that don’t currently compete in the sports car market, evidence crafted by existing sports cars, to cause those non-participants to stay far, far away.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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  • Redav Redav on Dec 15, 2015

    It looks like the Miata is already trending back to selling 500 to 600 per month.

  • JimR JimR on Dec 15, 2015

    I'm selling some leftover go-faster bits from my sold Miata and soon-gone Mazda6. I get some pretty persistent Craigslist texts from dullards wanting half price, then revealing they don't even have the money. When I read about what the FT86 twins "need" on the internet, I imagine the same people grasping at the same improbable aspirations. People also are vain about badges, specific output, heritage, and other things that don't contribute anything to the experience, yet want to link these intangibles to the price tag in a 1:1 ratio. Everything for nothing. Here's the reality about the car: the FR-S is fine, great even. It drives just like a normal car. It will trundle along at 35 MPH in sixth gear. It pulls from point-to-point in traffic without issue. Everything you touch inside is mission/price-appropriate. The important interfaces are great: chunky steering wheel, slick shifter, forgiving clutch take-up, bolstered seats, simple switch gear at hand. The car looks neato in person, always worth a second look over your shoulder as you walk away from the parking spot. I have crapcan-raced, lapped, autocrossed, rallycrossed, wrenched on, and daily-driven tons of old standards in the enthusiast community. The twins are right there in the greatest hits collection, cheap and cheerful. The car fails to sell not because it's broken. It doesn't sell because it's a small sports car, which happens to sports cars always and forever. After the late 90s sporty car drought, we should be thankful that we are so spoiled for choice. This is a golden era with fun packaged in myriad shapes, sizes, and prices.

    • Chan Chan on Dec 15, 2015

      You're right; the car is fabulous. Rather, it was, in 2012. Today, as most people have noticed, Subaru's own WRX can be had for just a few more bucks. Same plain interior quality, but with far more power and two more doors. Everyone who wanted one and could afford one of the twins, likely has one by now. Want them to trade in? Most of them want a little more power. Want to attract new buyers who have the means to buy one? I think they want a few more horses too.

  • Wolfwagen IIRC I remember reading somewhere that the Porsche Cayenne was supposed to have a small gasoline-powered block heater. There was a loop in the cooling system that ran to the heater and when the temperature got to a certain point (0°C)the vehicle's control unit would activate the heater. I dont know if this was a concept or if it ever made it into production.
  • Jeffro As I sit here this morning with my 2 day old TRD OFF ROAD 4RUNNER tucked safely away in the garage, my head spins with this weird desire to locate a 85 LTD equipped with the epic 😵‍💫2.3 and the FOUR ON THE FLOOR. THE HOLY GRAIL. Ying and yang baby!The search begins.
  • ToolGuy 404 error on the product link. Which probably isn't terrific marketing on TTAC's part. https://thinkwarestore.com/product/f200-pro-ca
  • ToolGuy Second picture: Do you like pegboard storage? (I don't.)
  • ToolGuy "WHAT???"(old 'I was in the artillery' joke)
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