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Market Insight: Long road back for top sports

Come back: Sales of Porsche’s 911 are still below pre-GFC levels, in line with the overall $200,000-plus sports market segment that is slowly fighting back.

High-end sportscars still struggling to reach pre-GFC sales level in Australia

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Market Insight logo23 Mar 2015

By RON HAMMERTON

SEVEN years after the global financial crisis sent the economy – and the motor industry – into turmoil, sales of most classes of motor vehicle have fully recovered in Australia, with some such as SUVs surging upward and onward to record levels.

But it seems the big end of town has a long memory, with well-heeled members of society only slowly warming to the task of replacing their top-end sportscars, judging by official VFACTS data.

As our graph shows, sales of sports coupes and convertibles priced above $200,000 still have not recovered to pre-GFC levels of 2007 when a record 1575 dream machines left showrooms.

Last year, sales had clawed back to 1320 from a low of 823 in 2009 when an avalanche of bad economic news slammed the brakes on vehicle sales across the board.

This year, deliveries of these desirable sportscars are up a further 9.5 per cent after two months, and if this trend continues, car-makers should bank about 1415 sales in this bracket by year’s end.

That would make it the second-best year on record, but short of 2007 by about 150 units, even though buyers have more choice than ever before.

Today, 15 players are offering motoring nirvana in $200K-plus two-door transport, compared with 12 nine years ago. Since then, newcomers such as McLaren have entered the market, while existing contenders have added new models, such as BMW with its futuristic plug-in hybrid i8.

One of the most successful sports-luxury brands, Porsche, has more than doubled its vehicle sales since 2007, but not in the above-$200,000 sports category where sales of its iconic 911 slipped from 522 nine years ago to 366 in 2014.

To be fair, Porsche is still rolling out some variants of its latest 911 range – including the popular Carrera GTS – but most of its growth has come from its SUVs, with the top-selling Cayenne accounting for more than half of all Porsche sales last year, and, more recently, the smaller Macan weighing in with 257 in 2014.

Some 911 sales might have leaked to the more affordable and newly redesigned Cayman, sales of which have grown from 145 to 225 vehicles, and the Panamera sports sedan that has arrived on the market since the GFC, winning 85 new owners last year.

Rival Ferrari has lost ground, with sales ebbing from a 2007 peak of 145 units to 113 last year, while Aston Martin’s volume has gone from 160 to 107.

Maserati’s overall sales have almost tripled in nine years, but most of the growth has come from its sporty sedans. Of its 401 sales last year, only a quarter (99) came from its two-door models.

The Maserati experience might be instructive, as one theory for the shortfall in top-end sportscars is that many buyers have simply opted for more practical four-door sports sedans.

Mercedes-Benz, for example, sells more AMG-enhanced sedans such as the C63 and E63 per capita in Australia than any other market.

The growth of these sales has come in parallel with falls in sales of the two-door models such as the SL and CLS.

As Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific senior manager of public relations, product and corporate communications David McCarthy puts it: “These days, we are spoiled for choice.” Some buyers might consider sports sedans less ostentatious in a world that is still feeling the reverberations from the GFC and, in Australia, the end of the mining boom and downward spiral of manufacturing.

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