Corvette Drops to 50-Year Sales Low as High-End Sports Cars SputterBy Michelle Krebs January 15, 2010
When automakers revealed 2009 full-year sales on January 4, data analysts from Edmunds.com unearthed a remarkable fact: sales of General Motor Co.'s seminal Chevrolet Corvette sports car fell to a low not seen in almost 50 years.
The Corvette's 13,934 sales were the worst for the nameplate since 1961, when Chevrolet sold 10,939 models - and the car was still in its first generation.
As recently as 2006, Chevrolet sold more than two-and-a-half times as many Corvettes -- 36,518 -- as it did last year, as sales for almost all premium sports cars were pummeled.
Chevrolet confirmed the Corvette's sales history, while a spokesman noted total industry sales in the premium sports car segment were down 41 percent last year. Compared with 2008, Corvette sales slid 48.3 percent.
One of the Corvette's primary competitors in the market, the Porsche 911, dropped a less-precipitous 17.8 percent last year, but its 6,839 units accounts for only about half of the Corvette's segment-leading 27.7 percent market share, the Chevrolet spokesman told AutoObserver. Porsche's Boxster and Cayman were off 35.7 percent and 44 percent, respectively, in 2009.
The sports car market suffered the effects of the poor economy, with dismal sales across the entire segment in 2009. The Audi TT -- a comparatively new design -- fell 56.9 percent last year to just 1,935 sales for the year. Even sales for Audi's R8, launched in 2008 and revered for being a relative bargain, dropped by 22.3 percent.
At Mercedes, sales for the SLK plunged 48.1 percent to 2,566, and sales for the pricey SL were off 26.3 percent.
The Dodge Viper, which the Chrysler Group LLC announced would cease production later this year, fell 58.9 percent last year and just 482 were sold.
Corvette: Bellwether or Just a Bad Year?
The Corvette, however, stands nearly alone as both the segment's most well-known model and as its longest-standing continuously produced nameplate, in production since 1953. Its precedent-setting sales decline could be construed either as a simple symptom of a bad year for the industry and the economy, or as a potential indicator of a broader decline in interest for sports cars.
One high-ranking GM official told AutoObserver at this week's Detroit auto show he was not necessarily surprised by the Corvette's near half-century low sales figure in 2009. He said the Corvette is priced at the more affordable end of the segment, and as such has a higher ratio of aspirational buyers more likely to be affected by the country's economic downturn.
He did say, however, that the trend bears watching, particularly because the Corvette is Chevrolet's halo model and GM has ambitions to increase the global reach of the Chevrolet brand.
Others believe the Corvette's sales dive might be equally attributed to the poor economy and the car's increasing age. It is a well-known industry tenet that sports cars, often bought by style-driven customers, have short shelf lives and sales drop off sharply as soon as the design is perceived as aged and competitors launch models with fresher styling.
The Corvette currently is in its sixth generation, which was launched in 2005 - a long time in sports car half-life. But the styling of the so-called "C6" current-generation car is largely derivative of the fifth-generation Corvette, which began life in 1997. -- Bill Visnic, Senior Editor