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Market Insight: Return of the sportscar

Game-changer: The Hyundai Veloster started the sportscar revival and remains the style price leader, despite the arrival of the exciting new Toyota 86.

Affordable fun-loving sportscars back in favour as style makes a comeback

9 Jul 2012

SPORTSCARS are making a comeback in Australia, thanks largely to more affordable and attractive coupes such as the recently launched Hyundai Veloster and Toyota 86.

And the growing market segment is set to get a further kick along this month with the launch of the BRZ, Subaru’s version of the headline-grabbing 86.

But it is really the 86 that has lit the touch-paper on a market segment that has been largely stagnant for years as younger buyers have turned increasingly to sports-oriented SUVs and utes rather than the MGs and Alfas so admired by their fathers.

After years of walking away from sportscars – having discontinued long-time staples such as the Celica, MR2, Supra and even the much-maligned Paseo – Toyota appears to have emerged from its recent troubles with a new appreciation of fun.

Perhaps encouraged by the critical acclaim and almost certain success of the joint venture with Subaru to develop the 86 and BRZ twins, Toyota has also forged an association with BMW to produce a new sportscar.

This is expected to be a high-end machine that would provide BMW and Toyota’s Lexus division with rivals to the iconic Porsche 911, sporting high-technology componentry such as carbon-fibre and advanced powertrains.

 center imageFrom top: Toyota 86 Subaru BRZ Porsche 911 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe.

While there is lots of excitement at Porsche Cars Australia about sales growth potential with the all-new 911, Boxster and Cayman ranges, the business end of the sportscar market is all happening below $40,000.

Just as sportscar brands like MG and Austin Healey grew out of post-WW2 austerity in Britain with people looking to add some fun and colour to their lives, perhaps people are more attracted to frivolous cars again as they emerge from the global financial crisis.

This year alone, the total sportscar market in Australia is up 50.1 per cent on the first half of 2011, with almost half of the increase coming from the Hyundai Veloster that was launched here in February this year priced from $23,990.

Having racked up a total of 1859 sales, the front-drive Veloster is selling at the rate of about 400 cars a month – about the same as Toyota Australia has projected for the rear-drive 86 – and taken a 26.0 per cent slice of the segment for sportscars priced below $80k year-to-date.

Its nearest rival YTD is the more expensive Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe, which was launched here in August last year priced from $58,900, although its position will be usurped by the end of the year by the hot-selling and hotly priced Toyota 86, which created headlines last month with its $29,990 launch price.

Nevertheless, the sleek Mercedes Coupe has accounted for an impressive 1122 sales in the first half for a 15.7 per cent share compared with only 311 sales in the same period last year for its predecessor, the CLC.

Volkswagen also aided the cause in the sub-$80k segment with the return last November of the Golf Cabriolet (431 sales YTD) and the sleek new Scirocco coupe (407 sales YTD) from early this year.

Sales in the over-$80k sportscar segment have been slowing over the past five years, since the BMW 3 Series coupe and cabriolet models were at their peak with 2921 sales for the year in 2007, when the Audi A5 coupe arrived and took sales away from not only BMW and Benz but also Audi’s own TT.

In recent years, the over-$80k segment has been dominated by the Mercedes E-Class coupe and convertible models (824 sales YTD), but the smaller new-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster launched last August has contributed 374 units this year, more than compensating for BMW’s fall in the changeover to new 3 Series coupe and cabriolet in March this year.

Naturally, the GFC curbed the top end of the sportscar market, especially for Aston Martin, Ferrari, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz (CL and SL). Sales are down at least one-third over their 2007 peak, but Porsche expects a recovery in the next two years with the arrival of new 911 variants.

But the real interest among sportscar fans remains at the lower end for once, with all eyes on the market reaction to the 86 and BRZ, and how they will affect the top-selling Veloster.

Longer-term, many car companies will be watching with interest to see if this is a sustainable trend back to small driver-oriented sportscars, and perhaps away from big gas-guzzling sports utes, or simply a post-GFC over-adjustment.

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