If you’ve been on a new car lot recently (especially a Japanese brand car lot, especially Nissan or Mitsubishi) then it’s hard not to notice that performance and sports cars are few and far between.
Everywhere you turn, you’ll see either economical hatchbacks or SUV/crossover vehicles. Increasingly, these will be electric or hybrid-powered as well.
While there are some exciting models creeping back in, courtesy of vehicles such as the GR Yaris and Civic Type R, it’s fair to say that on a whole there is a lot less focus on performance these days from mainstream brands.
So where have all the “fun” cars gone?
If you grew up in the Gran Turismo era, then you’ll remember a time when almost every manufacturer had a full complement of performance vehicles, as well as sportier, faster versions of “normal” cars (these days “sport” trim usually denotes a bigger set of wheels, and maybe some trimmed seats or something like that).
Think about a company like Mitsubishi.
In the 1990s/early 2000s, Mitsubishi had a legendary lineup of performance vehicles including:
- Lancer Evolution
- FTO (particularly the very cool, high-revving FTO GPX 2.0 v6)
- Pajero Evo
- Mirage Cyborg
These days, the Mitsubishi lineup looks like this:
And Mitsubishi have made it clear they have no intentions of bringing back any of their performance legends, such as the Evo. In fact, Mitsubishi are clear that the Evo is dead forever, as you can read in our article here about why they killed off the Evo in the first place.
While there are clear exceptions to the rule, it really does seem that sports/performance cars are becoming less of a priority and focus for many manufacturers.
Instead, the focus has shifted to SUVs/Crossovers, hybrid, and electric vehicles.
But why? Why don’t manufacturers focus so much on sports vehicles and instead put emphasis on the production of these more “mundane” vehicles.
Here is our take:
Consumer Preferences Have Shifted
Probably the biggest factor in the move away from the production of sports and performance vehicles is the fact that consumer preferences have shifted towards crossover and SUV type vehicles.
It’s not just performance cars that have suffered – even sedans (the mainstay of motoring) have taken a massive hit in terms of sales.
Buyers want the practicality, comfort, and convenience that crossover and SUV vehicles bring. Because these cars now drive so well too (see our comment below on performance) from the perspective of the average car buyer you really can “have it all”.
Although many enthusiasts recoil in horror at the thought of a family crossover vehicle, the truth is that for the average buyer – who makes up the largest percentage of the market – these vehicles really are ideal.
Car manufacturers will make cars their customers want to buy, it is that simple.
Environmental Concerns Are Key
Another reason why car manufacturers don’t focus so much on the sports/performance segment is due to environmental concerns.
Part of this is due to shifting consumer preference. More buyers are concerned about the impact of their vehicle choice on the environment, and therefore want to pick something with good fuel economy and low emissions. We won’t be drawn in this article into the pros and cons of this approach if you are scrapping a reliable existing car for something more eco-friendly … suffice it to say that green credentials are a key factor for many buyers in 2020.
Furthermore, governments (both local and national) are taking steps to encourage a more efficient fleet, particularly electric and hybrid vehicles. In countries like the United Kingdom, you pay additional road tax for less efficient vehicles.
Many buyers will happily give up any sporting pretensions for reduced road tax and emissions, and manufacturers are responding to that trend.
This trend will only accelerate in our opinion as well, as increasing focus is placed on environmental concerns.
Modern Cars Perform Well Enough (For Most)
This is probably going to be a contentious statement, but the truth is that most modern cars – apart from the absolute bargain basement options like the Mitsubishi Mirage – perform well enough for the average buyer.
I recently had a Toyota Camry Hybrid as a rental car while on a work trip. I was flabbergasted at just how well the Camry drove, and just how quick it was. For the average person on the street, a car like the Camry Hybrid has all of the performance you’d ever need. In normal day-to-day use, you never feel like you are down on power or handling ability, but you also get the benefits of great fuel economy, reliability and practicality.
A 2020 Hybrid Camry will do 0-60mph in around 7 seconds. This is not too far off a Mazda RX8, which does the same dash only half a second faster.
The truth is that technology has marched on so far that for the vast majority of car buyers, a “standard” modern car will do absolutely everything you need. You have enough power and drivability to have fun most of the time, but then get to also enjoy the practicality and economy that modern technology offers.
In the past, there was more of a clear demarcation between standard “daily driver” cars and performance models. Standard models weren’t able to offer the same level of performance that is achievable these days in mainstream cars.
Conclusion – Why Are Sports & Performance Cars Dying Off In Manufacturer Lineups?
To recap, here are some of the reasons why sports/performance cars (both dedicated ones and genuine performance variants of existing cars) are less common than they once were:
- Consumer demand has shifted towards vehicles that are more environmentally friendly, both because of concern for the environment but also due to taxation incentives. In many jurisdictions, it will cost you a lot more to keep a “gas guzzler” sports car on the road, reducing their appeal.
- Buyers want more economical vehicles. As mentioned above, part of this is due to environmental concerns. However, there is also the desire to save money on fuel in an age of skyrocketing cost of living. If you are daily driving a car, who really cares about performance when the average car performs so well these days anyway.
- Modern cars perform so much better in general, which means that the majority of purchasers will be satisfied with the performance they are getting from their modern car.
- Buying preferences have shifted towards crossovers and SUVs, and manufacturers will go where the money is as they are in the business of selling cars for a profit!
While there are still sporty, performance-oriented vehicles out there, the truth is that for the average buyer the types of vehicles we see on new car lots these days are generally better suited.
Manufacturers are going to buy what their customers want to purchase, while throwing the occasional bone to the enthusiast community.
What is your opinion on the decline in performance cars? Why did you think it’s happening? Maybe you don’t think it is an issue at all. We welcome all feedback – just leave a comment below.