Britons’ love affair with the convertible car and wind-in-the-hair driving looks to be waning, according to reports from the motor industry.
Historically, motorists in Britain buy more cabriolets than any other country in Europe, but our desire to own open-top cars has gone into reverse, despite record high temperatures this week.
Sales of convertibles typically rise sharply in the UK during the early summer, but market data shows that hasn’t been the case in 2022 – and demand for new and used models is now below pre-pandemic levels.
Experts say the drop off in drop-top demand is due to a number of economic issues – not least the cost-of-living crisis and lack of availability of new cars – but also the climate, with commentators claiming British summers are now too hot for convertible cars.
Has our love affair with cabriolets, convertibles and roadsters come to an end? Auto Trader and carwow have both reported declines in demand for open-top cars in 2022
While you’d think it would be sun-drenched drivers from the South of France, Italy and Spain who would be the biggest convertible fans, we Britons buy them in greater numbers.
Despite the relatively inclement weather on our wind and rain-swept island, most car makers report that the UK is the cabrio capital of Europe.
However, those days could be numbered, according to information relayed to This is Money this week.
The Motor Vehicle Registration Information System (MVRIS) shows that almost 48,000 convertible models were bought by UK drivers in 2017, though that figure has more than halved, dropping to just 20,400 last year.
In 2017, convertibles represented 2 per cent of all new cars, while in 2021 they accounted for just 1.2 per cent.
The data also shows that declining appetite for open-top cars was evident ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic, with 2019 registrations dropping to 36,193 – a decline of 24 per cent compared to two years prior.
Fall in convertible car registrations
2017: 47,814 (2.0% market share)
2018: 42,152 (1.8% market share)
2019: 36,193 (1.6% market share)
2020: 20,124 (1.2% market share)
2021: 20,367 (1.2% market share)
Source: Motor Vehicle Registration Information System (MVRIS)
This 57 per cent decline between 2017 and 2021 is greater than the average fall in new car sales over the same period, which has fallen by 35 per cent over that five-year spell.
Carwow says it is tracking an even bigger shift away from convertibles this year.
It told us it usually expects to see a spike in orders for new and used cabriolets from June onwards, based on historical sales data.
However, in the first two weeks of July enquiries for cabriolets, convertibles and roadsters were down 59 per cent compared to the same period in 2021.
It also said that enquiries had been 9 per cent lower than during the first half of June 2022, and 14 per cent down on the second half of the month.
‘The UK is one of the biggest markets in Europe for convertible sales,’ explains Hugo Griffiths from the car sales platform.
‘In a typical year we might see demand rise further due to a sustained period of good weather, yet this year the trend is clearly very different.’
While you’d think it would be sun-kissed continentals from the South of France, Spain and Italy who would be the biggest convertible fans, we Britons buy more than they do
Sales of cabriolets typically rise sharply in the UK during early summer, but early market data shows that hasn’t been the case in 2022 – and demand is now below pre-pandemic levels
Carwow says that in the first two weeks of July, enquiries for new and used cabriolets, convertibles and roadsters were down 59% compared to the same period in 2021
He believes the cost-of-living crunch is to blame with luxury items – including open-top cars – being one of the big victims of cut backs.
‘The enquiry levels we are seeing on our own platform, and those reported by our dealer partners, suggest that the cost-of-living crisis could be curbing demand,’ Griffiths said.
Kwik-Fit says record temperatures have driven a 350% rise in air-con recharges
Kwik Fit says it has seen demand for air conditioning recharges more than triple in the last week as car owners battle through record-high temperatures.
Despite lower traffic volumes, with drivers heeding advice not to travel if possible, the servicing and MoT specialist saw overall demand for air con services rise 354 per cent above the same period in 2021.
On Sunday, centres across the South East and East of England said demand had spiked to more than ten times (1,090 per cent) what it was on the same day a year ago.
Kwik Fit said the huge jump in demand isn’t solely down to all-time record-high temperatures in excess of 40 degrees being achieved this week.
As well as trying to stave off the intense heat, some five million people who normally travel abroad have chosen to spend their summer holiday in the UK this year and are therefore reliant on their car’s air con being in tip-top working order.
This has ‘focused many more drivers’ minds on ensuring their cars are as comfortable as possible in the hot weather’, Kwik Fit said.
‘Convertibles are often seen as luxury purchases, and that might be out of step with the current economic climate where ongoing rises in household bills dominate the headlines.’
While carwow is pinning the blame on tightening purse strings, Auto Trader, which specialises in used car sales, believes Britain is now too hot for people to enjoy convertible vehicles.
Like its rival, it said it has tracked open-top sales as being down against ‘normal trading conditions’, but doesn’t believe it is caused by cost-of-living pressures.
Instead, data analysts at the company say they are more inclined to think our summers are now no longer suitable for soft tops, with drivers preferring air-conditioned hard-tops to escape soaring temperatures.
Its data shows that in June monthly convertible sales were down 22 per cent compared to the same period in 2021, 46 per cent lower than 2020 and 4 per cent behind where they were in pre-pandemic June 2019.
It’s a similar story when looking at early figures for July.
Demand slipped 20 per cent on the last two years and down 7.5 per cent in the same week in 2019, based on sales in the second week of this month.
Auto Trader says that if it is the case that demand has declined due to the hotter temperatures, the UK could follow a similar decline in demand for convertibles as seen in Spain in recent years, as Britons fall out of love with the wind-through-the-hair driving experience.
Erin Baker, its editorial director, said: ‘Although we saw a small positive uptick last week compared with the previous week, levels of demand for convertibles are down significantly on what we would typically see this time of year.
‘Ironically, it could be the record breaking sunshine that’s putting people off – it’s simply too hot to have the roof down.
‘Despite the inclement weather, the UK is typically seen as the convertible capital of Europe, with soft tops a far more common sight on British roads than they are in hot countries like Spain, where motorists prefer air conditioning over the baking sun.
‘With UK summers getting hotter, it will be interesting to see how it affects our love affair with convertibles.’
Commentators at carwow believe the cost-of-living crunch has resulted in fewer sales of open-top cars as Britons reign-in on their big-ticket luxury items (pictured, a Porsche Boxster)
Auto Trader says it thinks the drop in demand for convertibles isn’t related to the economic climate, but the climate itself. It says our summers are simply too hot for roof-down driving
With temperatures this week setting new UK records by exceeding 40 degrees, Auto Trader says summer conditions are simply too hot to enjoy a convertible and drivers would rather choose an air-conditioned coupe alternative
Without question, other economic difficulties as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak are also at play, with auto manufacturers still producing fewer cars due to the continued shortage of semiconductor chips triggered by the pandemic.
With brands streamlining their assembly lines to reduce costs, as well as prioritising the most popular vehicles to clear long lead times on their biggest volume sellers, cabriolet cars are likely at the back of the pecking order as manufactures churn out in-demand hatchbacks and SUVs.
The growth in demand for electric cars also hasn’t been favourable to fans of top-down driving, with very few battery-powered convertibles on the market today.
In fact, the only mainstream electric cars sold in the UK with roofs that fold back are the Fiat 500 Cabriolet and Smart EQ ForTwo Cabrio – super-small models only suitable for those who want to nip around the city with the sun on their scalp.
Commenting on the decline in convertible car sales, Mike Hawes, chief executive at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, told This is Money: ‘The global new car market is experiencing a challenging period and the UK is not immune.
‘With semiconductor shortages throttling the supply of the latest models, including convertibles, manufacturers must work hard to fulfil orders as best they can, inevitably, this will mean prioritising models most in demand – which tend not to be convertibles – as well as zero emission electric vehicles.
‘Moreover until the whole market is electrified, environmental regulations restrict which models manufacturers can produce meaning the choice of soft tops could be limited.
‘New car buyers should check in with dealerships on lead times, irrespective of the model or body style chosen.’
The growth in demand for electric cars also hasn’t been favourable to fans of top-down driving, with just two battery-powered convertibles on the market today, Fiat’s 500 (left) and Smart’s EQ ForTwo (right), which are not likely to all tastes
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