Donald Trump and Gm's Bob Lutz introduce Cadillac XLR-V
Steve Fecht  /  Reuters
New York mogul Donald Trump helps GM vice chairman Bob Lutz introduce the new 2006 Cadillac XLR-V roadster in "under 5 seconds" at the New York International Auto Show, March 23.
updated 4/1/2005 2:17:33 PM ET 2005-04-01T19:17:33

After losing their appetite for convertibles at the end of the dot-com era, Americans are rediscovering the joy of driving around with the wind in their hair.

Sales have returned to record levels, with topless cars adorning many carmakers' stands at last week's New York car show.

Donald Trump was on hand to unveil Cadillac's new XLR-V model, with 440 horsepower. By next year, General Motors will have seven convertibles in its product line-up.

"There are a lot of dreams, a lot of lifestyle images that go with convertibles," said a spokesman for Lexus, Toyota's luxury car division, as he showed off the retractable hard-top roof of the Lexus SC. Demand for convertibles is more volatile than for most other vehicles and is seen as a barometer of the level of corporate bonuses, the stock market and the weather.

Sales fell in 2002 and 2003 as the economy weakened and carmakers wooed buyers with a new crop of sporty "crossover" vehicles, which are small sports utility vehicles built on a car chassis. But demand bounced back last year, spurred by improving consumer confidence and a slew of new models, such as a convertible version of Chrysler's PT Cruiser, the Chevy SSR, the BMW 645 and the Mini Cooper.

U.S. convertible sales grew by 6.3 per cent to 315,300 units, surpassing the previous record of 2001, according to RL Polk, automotive research group. Chrysler's Sebring was top, followed by the Ford Mustang and the Volkswagen Beetle.

GM estimated that 42 convertible models would be on the road in 2009, almost double the number at the start of the decade. "They add a lot of excitement and give some really nice equity to a brand," said Lonnie Miller, of RL Polk.

Carmakers have made progress in overcoming some oft-heard complaints about convertibles. Leaky canvas roofs are making way especially on pricier models for hard-tops that, when closed, make a convertible virtually indistinguishable from other cars.

Slideshow: Unveiling new models The Lexus SC's roof slides up or down in 12 seconds. Still, not every carmaker is jumping on the bandwagon. Explaining why Acura, Honda's luxury brand, has yet to produce a convertible model, a spokesman said the cars were popular only in the U.S., making it hard to justify the investment. Noise was another drawback, the spokesman added.

Scion, Toyota's youth brand, was deterred by the high price of the car and extra insurance costs.

In any case, scoffed Jim Farley, head of the Scion division, convertibles “are bought only by older people.”

© The Financial Times Ltd 2013. "FT" and "Financial Times" are trademarks of the Financial Times.


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