In bleak car market, small and sporty still has some sizzle

The Mazda MX-5 Miata draws fans at the 2016 New York auto show. MX-5 Miata deliveries are up 35 percent this year in the U.S. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

They don’t have much utility or flexibility. They aren’t designed to go off-road. And most have room for just one passenger. But sales of true sports cars are accelerating this spring, leaving cars in other segments in the rearview mirror.

According to the Automotive News Data Center, U.S. sales of compact sports cars are up 3.4 percent in 2017, while overall car demand is off 12 percent, including an 11 percent slump in April. Truck sales, including crossovers and SUVs, have increased 4.4 percent so far in 2017.

The big winner among small sports cars this year is Mazda’s MX-5 Miata, which, after a redesign, got off to a slow start last year but is now showing signs of life in the showroom. A new model with a retractable hardtop was recently added. MX-5 Miata sales in April totaled 1,319, down from 1,345 sold in March, but up sharply from the 929 sold in January and 1,108 sold in February.

Overall, MX-5 Miata deliveries are up 35 percent this year in the U.S.

The MX-5 Miata’s sibling, the Fiat 124 Spider, is also selling in steady volume, albeit in small numbers. U.S. sales of the roadster started the year at 240 sold in January and grew to 465 in April.

Even the BMW Z4, which went out of production in August, has seen U.S. sales rise 42 percent this year, though monthly volumes have been small.

And sales of the Toyota 86, a successor to the Scion FR-S, are up slightly.

In March, Chevrolet’s Camaro galloped past the Ford Mustang for its first monthly win of the year. Camaro outpaced the Mustang in April, 8,737 to 8,063, but Mustang, which is no longer offered with a V-6 model, still has a comfortable lead for the year. Ford’s pony car is nearly 6,500 units ahead of Camaro.

Still, the midsize sports car segment -- Camaro, Mustang and the Dodge Challenger -- is off 16 percent this year heading into the key spring and summer sales season.

Despite its increasing age, the Challenger is hanging tough, selling 6,591 in April and maintaining last year’s sales pace, down just 0.5 percent.

Led by the Chevrolet Corvette, the large sports car segment is also off this year. Sales of the Corvette slipped about 12 percent in April, dropping from 3,142 sold in April 2016 to 2,756 sold last month. Corvette deliveries are off 10 percent year to date.

Jaguar’s F-Type turned in its best U.S. sales for April since launch, selling 406 units. Jaguar is launching the revamped 2018 model early this summer, which includes a less expensive four-cylinder model that could further boost sales.

While Jaguar may be best known for sports cars and sedans, the top-selling Jaguar model is the new F-Pace crossover. It’s the same story at Porsche where the Macan handily outsells the German automaker’s sports cars.

You can reach Richard Truett at

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