Sales of convertibles in Europe, particularly those with retractable hard tops, are expected to continue rising, boosting profits of suppliers that specialize in the roof systems.
German coachbuilder Wilhelm Kar-mann GmbH, which pioneered the retractable hard top in the mid-1990s with the first-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK class, and German roof suppliers Webasto AG and Edscha AG predict further growth in sales of convertibles in the next several years.
Karmann foresees sales of 1.2 million convertibles globally by 2011, compared with about 900,000 today. CEO Peter Harbig said he expects Karmann to double its share of the convertible market to 330,000 units by 2011.
Webasto CEO Franz-Josef Kortuem agrees that "the convertible market, taken all together, is a growth market."
So does Edscha, which supplies the hard-top convertible roof for the BMW 3 series. "We are expecting stable growth in roof systems," says Michael Altmeyer, sales and marketing manager for the company's convertible roof division.
Now just over half the convertibles sold in Europe are equipped with retractable hard-top roofs. They have sold well in recent years on perceptions that they are more comfortable and secure than traditional convertibles with canvas roofs.
But experts say it is too soon to write off the soft top, particularly as improved insulation and soundproofing have made cars with canvas roofs more attractive than ever. The latest convertible announced for Europe is the BMW 1 series. The soft-top version of BMW's entry-level car launches in Europe in March.
"In the past five years, there has been a strong bias toward the retractable hard top, but we predict the soft top will acquire market share again," says Karmann spokesman Christian Eick.
Earlier this month, Karmann said it would cut 1,800 jobs because of a decline in contract manufacturing orders. "With the downsizing of the contract manufacturing business, the relevance and importance of Karmann's roof system business is increasing," Eick says.
The global market research firm JATO Dynamics reports that in Germany alone, 77,000 folding-hard-top convertibles were sold in 2006, compared with 52,000 soft-top cars. Says JATO analyst Nick Margetts: "You can expect strong growth for the hard top and a consistent level of growth for the soft top." c