By on January 4, 2017

Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet 2012

Convertible sales have slid steadily for a while now and “everyday” droptops like the difficult to praise Chrysler Sebring have vanished from the automotive market. With the exception of a few premium options from Germany, fun in the sun doesn’t seem to coincide with daily driving anymore.

With their sales volume now trumped even by impractical, short-ranged electric vehicles, lidless cars are less popular than ever. In fact, America’s most popular convertible isn’t even a car (Jeep Wangler), and today’s remaining open-air options are either performance focused, comically small, or extremely expensive European luxury items. That’s likely to remain the case for some time, considering it took us over a decade to get here. 

According to IHS Markit (via Automotive News), the ragtop market has been shrinking since 2009, if not before, and now comprises less than 1 percent of all new car purchases. The last handful of years have been especially grim for the convertible, despite the segment’s continued willingness to exist.

“North America has always led the global convertible market, but hit a near-record low in 2014 with just 164,000 units sold in the region. While consumers returned to the automotive market, the gain has been in more practical segments, and purchases of convertibles and roadsters have lagged the general automotive market resurgence,” said Tim Urquhart, principal analyst at IHS Automotive, in last year’s analysis. “However, the North American market is expected to progress on a stable platform over the next few years, led by the launch of the latest iteration of the Ford Mustang in 2016.”

However, that predicted stability has instead become a bottoming out. The Mustang, along with the Camaro, are one of the few remaining American options for a retractable roof — and they aren’t particularly popular. While Mazda’s MX-5 managed 733 units in December, November only saw 387 U.S. sales. While that might seem like one bad month for one roadster, the better-than-ever Miata has not returned to its sales high of a decade ago and is actually a comparatively strong-selling convertible.

Haartz, the corporation that produces unique convertible tops for discerning customers, commissioned a survey for people who own or have ever owned a convertible and another for those who would ever consider buying one. While the survey only reached out to 574 consumers, it did return the knowledge that more people would consider buying a convertible if they were more practical, roomier, less expensive, and better looking. Unfortunately, these elements are all things that today’s surviving convertibles seem to have trouble with. The Haartz survey also highlighted consumer preference toward retractable hardtops over folding fabric as well as a penchant for panoramic glass.

With so much working against them, droptops will likely never return their pre-Great Recession U.S. record of of 344,000 units, recorded in 2006. Even with Europe’s slightly stronger interest in convertibles, most sales will continue to be drawn from premium German models until the segment dies out entirely or undergoes some incredible metamorphosis. However, considering the abomination that was the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, that new form might not do the segment any favors.

[Image: Nissan]

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71 Comments on “The Convertible Market is Shallow Enough to Start Calling Droptops Irrelevant...”

  • avatar

    Convertibles remain a regional niche. Florida is a ragtop stronghold and that won’t be changing anytime soon.

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    The only cabriolet which is not so comically small, and is not performance focused is the Cascada, and it’s expensive – starting at $33,000. That’s as close as we get to everyday and normal sized cabrio.

  • avatar

    I’ve been a Windows Phone user for five years, and even I wouldn’t own a convertible.

  • avatar

    “their pre-Great Recession U.S. record of of 344,000 units, recorded in 2006.”

    Flippin’ unbelievable. They sure weren’t evident on northern roads.

    The photo.. I’m naming that little guy Norman and I’m worried he’ll bash his forehead on the windshield! Norman, wear your helmet!

  • avatar

    Sadly, as the market has exploded with dozens of models by each manufacturer…

    …the TYPE of car preferred by the lemming-like New Age young buyer is becoming depressingly uniform. One of three types: A four-door sedan; a four-door allegedly off-road SUV; or an allegedly-high-carrying-capacity four-door Bro-Dozer pickup truck.

    That’s it. Convertibles are not in the mix. The kids didn’t get outdoors enough when they were young, and they want to be sheltered from all that yukky sunshine and dust, today.

    For the moment, I get my fresh-air fix with a motorcycle. As I get older…who knows?…maybe I’ll have to walk.

    • 0 avatar

      Prunes will improve your outlook.

      I know.

      • 0 avatar

        Walking, eliminates both the need for prunes and for old-man-pants.

        I know.

        Motorcycling helps, too…the vibrations up the saddle, tend to dislodge the concrete up within…

    • 0 avatar

      As Toki would say, “convertibles is dildos”.

      More reasonably, even this middle aged old fart always hated them; why would “the kids” think they’re great?

      They’re loud, the tops age terribly, they’re immensely vandalism-prone and un-secure, and “the wind in your hair” is terrible.

      Also, get off my lawn.

  • avatar

    Guess I’ll keep holding onto my “foxy” ’91 Mustang GT Convertible.
    Hot fun it the summertime.

  • avatar

    My wife loves her ’06 Solara, and will be crushed when it’s all “used up”. Four seats usable by adults and a sedan-sized trunk are an unbeatable combination as long as you don’t care about handling.

  • avatar

    I have owned a few convertibles during the past decade. I didn’t mind the cold weather in one. I would lower the top even if I had to crank up the heat.

    A sunroof does not give me the same feeling as not having the top at all. My present rides have sunroofs, but I cannot remember the last time I really used them.

    I would love another convertible, but I have had to worry about having enough space in a vehicle to fit car seats, strollers, the dog and luggage for a family trip during the past several years. I cannot think of a convertible presently available where this would work. Plus, most have had low ground clearance, rear wheel drive and low profile tires, meaning that they look for the nearest ditch if there is more than an inch of snow on the road. One could perhaps fit a single small suitcase in the trunk with the top lowered. A weekend automotive mistress plus a daily driver is not in my current life’s picture.

    Safety regulations may never allow this, but I would consider one if it had i) front or all-wheel drive, ii) four doors and iii) a usable back seat and trunk. Like a modernized 1960’s Lincoln Continental convertible.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    Gets real old real fast even in a nice climate. Not too many of us live in the kind of area where this works.

  • avatar

    Love me a rag top. Back in 71 my buddy had 63 Impala rag ,250 cu in , with 3 on the tree. Finished in baby poo green. I can’t imagine what that 63 would fetch today.
    I picked up a 62 Pontiac Parisienne drop top, 283 Powerglide ., way past it’s “best before” date. Sold it for a profit though.
    It was nearly 30 years later that I bought a 2000 Firebird convertible. The only positive I can think of was the 3800 under the hood. I dumped it , waited a year and bought a 2008 Mustang rag,4 litre cologne engine,

    In a perfect world my 2015 EB Mustang , would be a 5 litre , 6 speed drop top, that would spend 5 months of the year parked in my garage.

    Unfortunately , like many of us , I don’t live in a “perfect world”

    I don’t see another Rag Top in my future.

  • avatar

    We have owned several convertibles, but gave them up when we decided to downsize/simplify/whatever you want to call it 4+1/2 years ago and only have two vehicles.

    The 2007 MX5 had to go.

    No plans at the moment to get another convertible, either, but who knows? By then they may all be gone.

  • avatar

    I’ve found the idea of a convertible is often nicer than the reality.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    I owned a 1998 Chrysler Sebring JXi Limited, in pearlescent black with tan top and black & beige leather interior. Identical to the one shown on these pics except for the top:

    I loved that car, and only sold because of having to relocate due to some life changes. This was the convertible that all enthusiast magazines enjoyed ragging on, but for me it was a very satisfying car: room for four adults, pleasant highway ride, weather-tight top, a usable trunk…would still own it if I could have kept it. It’s a shame you cannot purchase anything similar anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged Miata Man

      The first-gen Sebring convertibles were beautiful cars, and Dark Slate Pearl was a fantastic color on them.

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        Yeah, it’s a shame how they ruined a good thing.

        Dark Slate Pearl, yes, that was the color thank you. At first I was hesitant to buy it because I thought it would look dirty all the time; it didn’t. I’ve realized since that having a metallic component really helps black colors, my wife’s former vehicle was in non-pearlescent black and it was a nightmare. Always looked dirty.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Not long after I bought my S2000, I took it out on a drive with the top down for an hour. Got a sunburn, put the top back up, and started saving for the hardtop.

  • avatar

    Convertibles are a cyclical thing. I can remember at least one time hearing that convertibles are dead (like when the ’76 Eldorado was the “last convertible”). They’ll come back.

    Popular Science ran an article back in the early ’60s about the advantages of owning a convertible, over a closed car. Like not having a big roof to wax (backed when people waxed their cars), being able to get groceries out of the backseat, etc. Pretty funny when I think about it now, but the article made some good points.

    • 0 avatar

      Back in the early ’70s, a friend of mine who played in a band owned a ’66 Impala convertible. He always carried the PA columns to/from gigs because, with the top down, they were easily loaded into the back seat.

      A week back I saw a guy carrying boards bought at the home center in his convertible. In Pennsylvania.

  • avatar

    Had a 2013 Camaro convt from ’12 to ’15. Although it was not a DD, in Chicago the number of comfortable top down days per year can be counted on both hands. That, 21″ wheels and 35 series and 40 series tires were just not worth it. Much prefer the sunroofs on my ’13 and ’16 Challengers.

  • avatar

    The derided Sebring could seat 4 and had a serviceable trunk even with the roof down.

    Nothing offered today remotely close to that price range offers the same. Nothing.

    The primary problem is a dedicated convertible today is largely a weekend toy, and not very good as a daily driver. with ATP outstripping what the average American can afford compared to average annual salary, the whole idea of a weekend toy is out the window.

    The “practical” convertible, if you can say there ever was one, is dying a slow death because:

    1) The ones offered were widely derided (Sebring for being crap, Solara for being a blue hair mobile, G6 for being crap) – even if the deriding was fair

    2) Americans don’t have the same disposable income, and the blue hair set wants Buick Encores (e.g. sit up high and easy to get in/out and see out of)

    3) A soft top is a niche vehicle to begin with only good in moderate climates like Hawaii, and southern California. Other places are too cold, too wet, or get too hot too often to enjoy

    So of course the ones left are performance vehicles, autocross success stories, and luxury models. People buying a dedicated performance vehicle don’t care about practical (and the Camaro convertible addresses a number of short comings of the hard top in particular – but it is no prize), the MX-5 will always be a darling of the weekend autocross set, and for luxury car owners, they have the disposable income for a toy.

    • 0 avatar

      I keep hoping that demographics will keep the convertible alive. It’s my plan to ease into being a snowbird when I retire and I *definitely* want a Mustang or Camaro convertible to use in the warmer climes. Every time we go down to Florida we rent one, it’s a joyful experience. Our sedan has the ultimate panoramic roof (it’s an entire glass panel that slides back over the rear window) and, as nice as it is, it’s not the same as a true convertible. I wonder if I’m not alone in this.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re definitely not alone in appreciating a real ‘vert. I’d even venture so far as to say a “real” ‘vert needs a much more upright windshield than what most current cars come with. Otherwise, you end up either under a windshield roof, or resting your forehead on a windshield frame.

        The “real” ones, like the old K LeBaron’s, S2000s, Miatas, Eldos, Azures, 993s and Beetles, have your peripheral vision extend outside and above the windshield frame. Giving that timeless Chris Craft / Riva feeling, going down the road.

  • avatar

    At this moment my entire property is covered in two feet of snow. I own three convertibles. I will always own convertibles.

  • avatar
    Pete Skimmel

    Our ’97 Miata just hit the 70K mark on the odometer. If I had to drive it daily, it would be gone. As a fun time occasional ride, it’s great. My 66 year old 6 foot frame dictates that the Miata is a 2 hour car. Perfect for the 1-1/2 hour drive to our weekend place. It was cheap to buy, cheap to keep and will likely be sold at a profit when it becomes a half hour car for me.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Love my convertible, don’t ever plan to be without it or one like it. I’m fortunate/foolhardy in that I bought it young and drove it daily for several years until I could afford for it to be a second/third car. Now it is, and it costs me very little to keep it so I do. I grew up loving convertibles, and owning mine is the fulfillment of a dream. I get why a lot of people don’t like them, but I’m glad I do.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m with you. I love my Miata. Living in the Detroit area again however takes away most of the fun drives I used to have in Seattle. The roads suck, are straight. I can’t even drive it to work anymore since the road my office is on is post apocalyptic.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        Yeah, Chicagoland roads aren’t great, either in condition or in fun potential. I always say the S2000 is the car I wanted when I lived in New England, where it makes perfect sense, but by the time I could afford it I lived in Chicago, where it didn’t. Doesn’t matter, I still enjoy it, but I do wish I lived somewhere that allowed a lot more fun.

      • 0 avatar
        dash riprock

        Miata’s are great out on rural roads etc(even highways surprisingly enough) but in a busy urban environment, with all that clutching and slow speed shifting, you start to yearn for a “normal” car

        • 0 avatar

          I’m a bit over 6′ with a tall upper body and head, and the Miata works best in urban/suburban driving. Highway, and even faster rural, freezes my ears off…. The S2000, only a bit larger, is flat out perfect as far as air management goes.

  • avatar

    The only redeeming value of a convertible that I can remember was the ease with which one could insert / remove an infant in a child seat from the back seat via the open top versus squeezing him through the doors. We would then put the top back up after the baby was secure.

  • avatar
    Dave W

    “With their sales volume now trumped even by impractical, short-ranged electric vehicles, lidless cars are less popular than ever.”

    Who ever said buying any car is all about practicality? In any case impractical to who? With my wife’s red hair and freckles she basically always hides from the sun, to the extent that we moved to Vt where the sun is behind clouds or the horizon most of the time. Given her 10 mile round trip commute to work a short range electric is more practical for her then any convertible. Given the number of times convertibles have been written off I’m sure they will someday be back, but they will still be less practical then their hardtop brethren and for those who really look at their situation they my even be less practical then a 70 mile EV.

    Given the amount of knee jerk reaction to how flexy/flimsy hatchbacks are on this board I’m surprised to find much convertible love. Yes I know that all that beefed up frame is down low and potentially the structure can have “firewalls” front and back but it’s still got a lower section modulus then a car with a roof, and even favorably placed additional weight is still weight.

  • avatar

    For many years (nearly 20) I drove a 222-inch, factory a/c-equipped 1966 Bonneville convertible with all its benefits and flaws. So I’m satisfied – although I might one day find myself interested in a latter-day Saab convertible with stick shift, if a well-sorted one turns up. I get the impression that a Saab convertible top can withstand the elements better than most; I have neither a garage nor any prospect of one nearby.

  • avatar

    I thought about owning a convertible on and off for many years. I decided to take the plunge after watching Alex Dykes’s review of the Audi A3 convertible since he highly recommended it. Last April I took delivery of 2.0T premium plus. I love the car. If weather is sunny and temperature is at least 60 degrees the top is coming down!

  • avatar

    well guess I will be keeping my saab vert for a long time, NJ has a fair amount of verts for a northern state, I have owned a ragtop since I got out of collage. many years ago and will always have one hopefully.

  • avatar

    Want to know why convertibles aren’t popular?

    It’s simple. Modern cars don’t have greenhouses,so when you chop the top it’s pointless. An old school Sebring or Solara has decent sized interior space above the belt line, so you actually feel like you’re in a convertible with the roof off. When I drove a 2001 Sebring roof off,it felt special because you actually felt the environment and air around you.

    Get in a Cascada/G6/ other modern convertible , blindfold the passenger and drop the top. Betcha they won’t even know it’s down until you take off the blinder, huge car beltlines being what they are now. Top up or down, you’re sitting in a enclosed bathtub . So why bother ?

  • avatar

    I used to ride motorcycles 38 years ago, and started to think about getting another one a few years ago. But with the current level of distracted drivers, etc, I decided to get a roadster. Looked at the SLK and Z4, and ended up with a Miata. Even though I live in the DC area, it’s a hoot to drive. And as long as the temperature is at or above 60 degrees, the top goes down. “All the gear, all the time” is sunscreen and a baseball cap.

  • avatar

    Does this include the “not-really-a-convertible” cars from FIAT and smart?

  • avatar

    Convertibles are dying for the same reason that manual transmissions are dying – manufacturers aren’t making what the people want. The Mustang, Camaro, Miata, Fiat 124, Corvette are all rear wheel drive, and the Mustang and Camaro only pay lip service to being 4 seaters. Everything else is luxury level. Only the Buick Cascada – which most people don’t even know about, is a true 4 seater, front wheel drive, reasonably priced, etc.

  • avatar

    The last time I rented a car it was a ’14 Mustang V6 convertible. It was a great car to drive in South Carolina in May weather.

    I would even buy one for Michigan – snow tires, ahoy! – but the back seat is a little too cramped for daily family use.

  • avatar

    Cell phones have changed how folks approach car purchases. People would rather have a crossover that does a lot of things just OK than something as specialized as a convertible

  • avatar

    Personally, I long for a return to the day when each model of car is offered as a sedan, coupe, convertible and station wagon.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Mercedes had the best convertible/hard top concept with the R107 series made from 72-89. Ragtop in the summer. Hardtop in the winter. But, it was damn expensive. Did Mazda copy it with the Miata? I never see hard top Miatas around here!

  • avatar

    Across the board, including convertibles, true sports cars, or any type of coupe, people just are not interested in what are perceived to be impractical vehicles anymore. I won’t get into how impractical a giant pickup truck or a Jeep Wrangler can be in many circumstances.

    Last year I bought a 2002 Camaro V6 convertible that was previously owned by some older people who replaced it with a Mazda Miata. It’s fun to cruise around in as a third car, but it is definitely not practical, and it’s not sporting in any way. I was still really happy with it, until a friend picked up a 2000 Cavalier convertible in amazingly great condition for $1500. What a marvel of packaging the Cavalier is! It is truly roomy enough for 4 adults, and the trunk is huge for a convertible, even with the top down. Lowering the top is easier than in the Camaro. And the 2.4 twin-cam with 5-speed manual is actually a fun to drive combo, when it’s in working order. I never thought I’d be jealous of a Cavalier, but at least I can tell myself that I look slightly cooler in the Camaro.

  • avatar

    Is that car that big, or is the driver really tiny?
    I miss my Miata which I enjoyed driving even in the winter. Snowy roads made me wonder if that was what driving a sprint car felt like. Just a fun vehicle all year round. Sold it due to marriage and children which was truly the dumbest thing I ever did.

  • avatar

    I just love the “impracticable vehicle”..Two weeks ago I was diligently searching HD Long Box reg cab tucks. Not that I had any need for such a vehicle. I just wanted one.

    Well thats ancient history. After reading through the comments here, now i’m searching , gently used 2016 -17 V6, Stick shift Camaro, convertible.

    I just can’t wait for my family, and friends say “Ya already have a Mustang for a DD ,what ya really need Mikey is an CUV”

    Excuse me while i look this up, lets see auto…..hmmm ?

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