BMW: Sports Car Market Has Collapsed & May Never Recover


The sports car market has collapsed. That’s the opinion of Ian Robertson BMW’s head of sales (courtesy of the Washington Post) after looking at the data and sales for the segment.

“The sports-car market is roughly half of what it used to be,” Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of sales, said in an interview at the manufacturer’s headquarters in Munich. “Post-2008, it just collapsed. I’m not so sure it’ll ever fully recover.”

In Europe and North America, the car’s role as a status symbol has diminished, with sport-utility vehicles and their smaller crossover cousins becoming more popular. In China and emerging markets, Robertson said, hot weather, pollution and a penchant for chauffeur-driven limousines have made sports cars less popular among well-heeled clients.


Despite this BMW sees a future in the sports car. However one that it can’t afford to go alone on. Partnering with Toyota allows the brand to continue in the sports car market with all the technology and performance of rivals but at half the development cost.

According to research company IHS Automotive the Audi TT, Mercedes SLK and BMW Z4 peaked at about 114,000 in 2007 before slumping 45 percent by 2010. Demand in China has remained negligible, while global sales are expected to reach about 72,000 vehicles by the end of the decade, IHS said.

“The market has been diluted with more offerings designed to appeal to the kind of demographic traditionally associated with these models,” Tim Urquhart, a London-based analyst at IHS, said in an e-mail. “Young, urban upwardly mobile professionals are now able to buy a much wider range of lifestyle vehicles other than sports cars.”

BMW is boosting sales of its other vehicles even as the sports segment stagnates. Global deliveries for the brand gained 9.3 percent in the first 10 months of the year to 1.47 million cars, putting the group as a whole, including its Mini and Rolls-Royce nameplates, on track to sell more than 2 million vehicles this year, the company said today.

BMW is “taking very progressive steps with this now, and we’ll see how it goes in the months ahead,” Robertson said.

To us that means we should see a elements of the forthcoming sports car in the form of a concept sometime over the next 12 months with the production version coming within 24 months. Will it succeed? That’s clearly up in the air. However the one thing we do know is that BMW has made a bet it can afford to lose if it has to.

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  • Nick Dawson

    BMW has made a bet it can afford to lose if it has to, only because it is sharing the development cost with Toyota!

    I am married to a Malaysian, where we have a winter second home. Last winter, I popped into the local MINI dealership in Penang to talk MINIs, and asked the salesman why the Roadster is not imported while the Convertible always has been. Without hesitating he replied, “Only two seats lah”. That’s Asian logic for you, and it’s difficult to argue with.

  • Herr26

    The consensus within the company is to rethink the original concept and apply similar thinking to how the BMWi philosophy can be adapted to showcase a new direction for design , construction. And performance for the Z models.

    BMW wants to re-invent its Z series sports cars and make them as cutting edge and influential as the BMWi models by visual appearance and state of the art engineering to highlight a new BMW philosophy for sports cars.

    The Z4 becomes the Z5 and will share with a Toyota as will a Z3 Both are RWD. The engineering schematics for the Carbon intensive architecture is impressive. You are going to see so much for so little with the combined force of BMW and Toyota using all their resources available.

    Vision ConnectedDrive and 328 Homage concepts are the template for the visuals. Plans also include a slightly massaged three cylinder entirely unique and exclusive in the Z3 Mille Miglia mimicking the classic 328 to provide excellent dynamics using lightweight materials.

    In regards to the market, it is true that the SUV reigns supreme. But other segments such as more practical coupes with the addition of rear doors is fulfilling a role for customers that want sportier cars but they still need the practicality of a regular sedan.

    Speaking about practicality the new MINI 5dr has added further dimension to the MINI family in the request for further practicality. In Europe sales for the 5dr are on fire and is reason for delay to other markets. That delay could be extended to further focus on a swelling European order bank.

  • Bare with me for a second…. One of my favorite car mag articles ever was in Hot Rod. They took a mid 60s full sized ford with a stock big block of some indeterminate quality (think 428 or something) and started throwing money at the suspension. After 6k, it handled as well as a 92 F-150 pickup. At $12k, the 2004 Honda Acord V6 still tore it up on pretty much any track that had turns.

    It used to be to get sports car performance, you needed something low, exotic, and difficult to live with. But that’s not the case anymore. A 3 series can do things that “sports cars” of not that long ago dreamed of. Heck, the new Camry does things that sports cars of 20 years ago dreamed of…..

    So, why buy a “sports car” now if the only place you can really get to take advantage of what it does is on a track? You don’t need to give up on all the practicallity of what sedans, hatches, and god forbid, even CUVs like the Mecan give you to get a really sporting ride. Is it the BEST drive ever? Nope, but the delta between what a non sports car can do and sports cars is smaller, and less meaningful, for street drivers.

    So the sports car is more and more a fashion statement and appeals to less and less of the market space. Doesn’t matter how good it is, or what’s in it. Why live with just two real seats (and two seats usefull for puppies or mittens, just not people with say, real legs.) when you don’t have to? Some will still go for it, and some will not.

    Also, lets not forget that the new “sweet spot” in automotive tech isn’t the sports car, it’s the anternative drivetrain. So a lot that want the “best” whatever that means, are now driving the Model S, or will drive the Model D or whatever when it’s out. Sure, it’s too heavy to be a canyon carver like a 911 (or heck, even my old FIAT 124 Spider), but 0-60 in 3 sec is a hoot for sure, especially if the ride has more than two wheels!

    The Z series has never been the huge seller for BMW like the other lines. Ian is just looking at the numbers and isn’t hiding from what they say.