Corvette Drops to 50-Year Sales Low as High-End Sports Cars Sputter

By Michelle Krebs January 15, 2010

When automakers revealed 2009 full-year sales on January 4, data analysts from 2010 Chevrolet Corvette - 300.JPGEdmunds.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

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guy1974 says: 6:14 AM, 01.15.10

If you call the C6 derivative (which I can understand) then what do you call the Porsche 911?? It has been derivative for 40 years! If the design is good then it will only be tweaked - see the BMW 3 series in the 90's and the VW Golf as examples.

jmess says: 9:32 AM, 01.15.10

For me the poor quality and lousy dealer service took the fun out of owning a C6.

mzohar says: 12:11 PM, 01.15.10

To me its either sport or Car, it is not in the same category. It is like saying Food and newspaper or Food and sewer or Italian food and 6 floor apartment building.
If the sell of all those cars go down to 0 I will be more then happy about it.

skip74 says: 4:38 PM, 01.15.10

I would call this sales drop a direct result of the new Camaro. This car has great qualities for a lower price.

z064ever says: 11:36 PM, 01.15.10

I will tell you the reason. The price has increased too much, too fast. I got a 2002 Z06 for a list price of aprox $50,000. Now base vettes are that. I told Chevy the prices have gotten out of hand. Don't tell me about the competition. Corvette needs to be affordable, and an $80k Z06 is not affordable.

alman08 says: 10:17 AM, 01.16.10

Z06 at this current asking price needs to include a paddle shift, 7 spd dual clutch, while keeping the manual shifting as an option. And forget about charging more for the leather interior upgrade... just include it.

zursch says: 4:50 PM, 01.22.10

I hate to quibble, but 1997 production figures for the first year of the C5 were just 9752 cars. Still, the drop in sales this year ought to trouble GM management.

mailmanboss says: 4:40 PM, 09.19.10

I want to buy a Grandsports convertible really soon, but after talking with sales people they really don't want to come off of the MSRP. I can afford to buy any car that they have , but I will be dam if I just give them my money.This is happening all over Atlanta,Georgia. Once you see all the hidden cost, like me it makes the average customer walk out. I think here in Atlanta they kept the prices high. Well, they just are hurting themselves. I know of two other people who want to buy the 2011 grandsports (who can afford them), but like me we are going to hold out to the end of the year and try and get some discounts. The 3000 cash back or 0 financing is a joke. If you really want to sell cars do it like they do in the stores. Put the selling price on the car, no hazel no sales person, if you want the car the sticker price is what you pay. Just think of all the money dealers would save by not having sales people all over the place like a bunch of hungry wolfs.

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