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Market Insight: Sportscars accelerate

Stars: Nissan’s Z-car and the Toyota 86 are among the main influencers for rising sportscar sales.

New product launches directly linked to success of Australia’s sportscar market


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16 Aug 2021

NISSAN is set to invigorate the highly reactive sportscar segment with the impending reveal of its next Z car, to replace the current coupe that has been with us for a staggering 20 years.


The sportscar sector, more than other new-car segments, responds rapidly to new products, placing greater emphasis on manufacturers to keep the model line fresh.


But sportscars can be expensive to manufacture and their relatively low volume does not often make them a viable part of a range. Hence Nissan’s 20-year-old Z car.


Nissan is not alone. Toyota and its partner Subaru are poised to launch a new coupe to replace their respective decade-old 86 and BRZ.


Mazda is on the fourth generation of its MX-5, a nameplate that emerged in 1989 and has since averaged eight years between major upgrades.


The importance of refreshing the line can also be gauged in the number of models that have ended production because of a disinterested public, because of the launch of a more interesting newcomer or because of costs.


The Honda S2000 finished being built in 2009 on slow sales and high production costs. It was to have a successor, but the Global Financial Crisis ended that plan.


Australia also lost the Holden Monaro (2011), Mazda RX-8 (2012) and Peugeot RCZ (2016), each a memorable sportscar.


The sportscar segment has changed as much as the models available within it, the mix of sub-$80,000 entrants sliding from 28 in 2010 to 10 last year.


Reflecting the view that sports cars are expensive to make and need a strong return to survive, the segment above $80,000 rose from 18 models in 2010 to 39 last year, flooded with Audis, BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and the more exotic examples from Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren.


The incoming new versions of the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ are expected to again give the sportscar segment a kick.


Toyota proposed an affordable coupe as a means of reviving flagging interest in cars by youths as early as around 2005, leading to the FT-86 concept of 2009. To meet price points that could be met by the youth market, the concept lost its V6 hybrid engine and took on Subaru as a partner, along with its flat-four engine.


When it was launched in Australia in 2012, it opened at $29,990 plus on-road costs – right in the affordable bracket targeted by Toyota. Built by Subaru (16.5 per cent owned by Toyota), it also had a clone from Subaru known as the BRZ.


The 86/BRZ showed now only that a market exists for a low-cost coupe, but that the sportscar market can be triggered into intense activity when a new model comes along.


In Australia, the 86 sold 6706 units in its first full year (2013) – a figure it has not come close to repeating – while 1411 BRZs sold, also its record, in the same period.


On the arrival of the 86, the segment rocketed 32 per cent in one year – attributed almost entirely to the new 86/BRZ but also to other sports cars that became the recipients of newfound buyer interest.


The Ford Mustang of 2015 did the same thing when it launched in Australia and almost single-handedly lifted the segment 16.5 per cent, with 6200 Mustangs delivered in its first full year on sale earning it the title of Ford’s third-biggest seller of 2016.


But sportscars have a finite appeal with buyers who strongly lean to new products over old.


Once initial pent-up demand is sated, new products slide quite quickly from fashion. In 2020, the Mustang achieved 2923 sales and in the first seven months of 2021, the Mustang found 1934 buyers.


The Nissan 370Z had 436 sales in its first year after succeeding the 350Z (2012) on which it is heavily based and drifted down to 178 in 2019 then 109 in 2020, partially attributed to news its replacement was on the way and mainly because it was clearly an old model in comparison to rivals.


Toyota’s 86 slid from its 2013 high to 1619 units by 2017 and by 2019, 568 cars, while the Subaru BRZ finished 2019 with 399 sales.


When launched, the 86 outsold the BRZ by a factor of almost five. In 2020, the BRZ outsold the 86 by a handful (407 to Toyota’s 387) as interest waned, stock became tight during the pandemic and rivals were catching more buyer attention.


Mazda seems to have had a stronger record, even though it has peaks and troughs, because it has introduced generational changes that keep the product fresh.


In the first seven months of this year, the MX-5 has recorded 507 sales – substantially better than the 12 months each of 2019 and 2020.


How well the incoming Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ and Nissan’s new Z do will add sparkle – or dust – to the sports-car segment.

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