Insight: Soft tops succumb to indifference in the UK

12 July 2017

12 July 2017

There has long been the romantic ideal for many to own, and drive, a two seater sporty soft top.  However, the reality of running one in the UK, with its unpredictable weather, may not live up to the dream. Nevertheless, this was the attraction of this sector, which resulted in significant growth over the years.

Was this growth led by manufacturers responding to consumer demand or was it a desire to keep up with the competition, which seemingly led to the market nearing the point where we had a convertible version of almost every car model? Where volumes sold were high, manufacturers were clearly justified and likely researched the market well. Although, did we really need an Austin Metro, Toyota Celica or PT Cruiser Convertible to name a few?

The question now seems to be, have we fallen out of love with convertibles? It is possible that too many ordinary cars were given this soft top treatment or even a metal folding roof (nothing short of benign some say and impractical due to roof storage issues), subsequently these once aspirational vehicles no longer evoke the dream that was the open top sports car.   Whatever the reason, SMMT registration figures show that sales have fallen consistently over the past ten years from over 104,000 in 2007 to around 47,000 last year.  The sector now holds less than 2% market share compared to close on 4.5% back in 2007. 

Yearly Convertible Registrations

Source: SMMT

Despite there being less new variants sold, and therefore less available in wholesales channels, average residual values have also been in decline, which perhaps further underlines their fall in popularity.  Average RV’s expressed as a percentage of original cost new at 2 years of age in 2007 were just under 60%, however this fell below 49% in 2016.  RV’s for 5 year old variants also fell but by a lesser degree.

Yearly Convertible RVs (Standard Mileage)

Is there a future for the soft top car? Yes definitely, but perhaps like other segments of the market that have surpassed their heyday, it has to be accepted that it is a niche more than a segment.  Exciting cars do not necessarily need to be roofless, but sometimes it helps!

Jonathan Brown

Car Editor, Glass’s