Drop-tops belly-flop as austerity breeds pragmatic car buyers

Sun Mar 1, 2015 4:12am EST
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By Laurence Frost

PARIS (Reuters) - The mass-market convertible car emits its last gasp this week at a Geneva motor show bristling with sport utility vehicles and low-cost models -- more evidence of the pragmatism of European consumers marked by years of austerity.

Mainstream brands from Peugeot to Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) are quietly axing cabriolets, as customers with cash to spend increasingly plump for a crossover, or choose to buy a low-cost car and keep the change.

That's just fine with most carmakers, who would rather sell an offroad-styled city car or budget model, either of which typically brings lower production costs and fatter profits.

"We're seeing the end of noughties bling-bling," said Francois Roudier, spokesman for France's CCFA auto industry body. Outside the luxury market, "today's buyers want either a safe family car or something a bit more rugged," he said.

Global production of convertibles and roadsters has fallen by 59 percent since 2007, the eve of the financial crisis, according to industry data from IHS Automotive.

SUVs have meanwhile surged to account for one in five European vehicle sales, according to the forecaster, creating a pocket of growth in an otherwise lackluster market.

Conspicuous by its near-absence from Geneva is the coupé-cabriolet (CC), whose hard roof folds and stashes electronically into what might otherwise be useful luggage space.

Peugeot is dropping the once hot 207 and 308 CC, descendants of the pioneering 206 CC it unveiled as a 1998 Geneva show car.   Continued...