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Convertibles Facing a Cloudy Future

Demand shrinks despite new offerings.

by on Jul.22, 2011

Despite sluggish ragtop sales, the buyers are lining up for the new Chevy Camaro Convertible.

With the temperature nudging 100 in much of the country, even the most diehard convertible fans have folded up the top and turned on the air conditioning.  But the ongoing heat wave doesn’t explain why convertible sales have gone cold.

Now, drop-tops will never again match the numbers of yester-year, when they were as common as station wagons parked in the driveways of ‘50s-era suburbs.  But even as recently as 2006, convertibles accounted for about 2.0% of the U.S. auto market, according to data from R.L. Polk.  Last year, that plunged to an even 1.0% and the question is whether there’s a sunny future ahead.

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“Will this market be able to rebound?” asks Polk analyst Mark Pauze.  “We are seeing a slight uptick” in sales this year, but the increase in convertible sales isn’t keeping pace with the overall improvement in the U.S. new car market, he adds.

There are some exceptions.  Audi can barely keep up with demand for models like the A5 Cabriolet, many customers waiting for backorders to be filled from the factory in Germany.  The new Chrysler 200 Convertible appears to be making up for the declines suffered by the unloved Sebring drop-top.


Audi Profits Slip, but Share Grows

Automaker putting off indefinitely a U.S. assembly line.

by on Jul.31, 2009

Audi is counting on its expanding line-up, including products like the upcoming A5 Sportback, to help it gain global market share and keep its balance sheet in the black.

Audi is counting on its expanding line-up, including the upcoming A5 Sportback, to help it gain global share and keep its balance sheet in the black.

The global slump may have taken a toll on Audi’s sales and profits, but the automaker insists the downturn could play to its advantage, longer-term.

The German maker, a semi-autonomous arm of giant Volkswagen AG, reported that it was able to stay in the black, during the first half of 2009, unlike many of its competitors, though profits still slipped by 25%. Sales slipped 9.7% from January through June, noted Chief Financial Officer Axel Strotbek, but that was also a fair bit better than the overall, 18% industry downturn, he stressed, during a conference call with American journalists.

“We want to use this opportunity to emerge from the current crisis considerably stronger,” the executive said, “a winner in the long-term.”

At the current exchange rate, Audi AG posted a net first-half profit of $979.5 million, or €697 million. During the same six-month period last year, Audi’s net was €903 million.

Meanwhile, unit sales fell from 516,219 to 466,000, a nearly 10% dip. The decline varied sharply from country to country, Strotbek noted. In fact, volume increased in China by 10.5%, where Audi now holds a 42% share of the premium car market. Early in the year, the Chinese government took aggressive steps to revive faltering momentum in the country’s automotive market – now the single largest national market in the world. It is now Audi’s second-largest market, after Germany.


First Drive: 2010 Audi A5 Cabriolet

Set for the storm.

by on Mar.12, 2009

The new A5 Cabriolet's roof can be raised or lowered in 15 seconds -- and at speeds up to 30 mph.

The new A5 Cabriolet's roof can be raised or lowered in 15 seconds -- and at speeds up to 30 mph.

We think of them as sunshine cars, but when you’ve spend most of your life in the Midwest, with its fast-changing weather, you learn to appreciate every opportunity to drive a convertible.  Even now, as menacing gray clouds roll in over the French Cote d’Azur.

Pulling out from our waterfront hotel, we head for the Corniche, that gives a commanding view of the coastline, all the better without glass between us and the sea, the briny scent filling the breeze.

But within moments, the occasional spot of a drizzle turns into a torrent, something that would be a serious problem in most convertibles, considering there’s no place to pull over, at the moment, and raise the top.  But not to worry.  We slow down to 30, tap a button and our new Audi A5 Cabriolet goes into action.  Within 15 seconds, the top is fully up and locked down, dryly sealing us into our A5 cocoon.

That’s just one of the many appealing features of Audi’s latest offering, which otherwise has all its basics in common with the striking A5 Coupe and its more sporty sibling, the S5.

For this particular package, Audi has opted for a soft-top, which might surprise those who’ve expected to see the industry steadily migrate to hardtops, such as the latest-generation BMW 3-Series Convertible.  The debate is likely to continue, but Audi felt a cloth top permitted its designers and engineers to more accurately maintain the striking side profile of the original A5/S5.  And compared to most hard-top cabriolets, the new Audi maintains a positively cavernous cargo compartment, whether the roof is up or down.