Erik Roeren thinks SUVs and cross/utility vehicles would look great as convertibles.
Of course, he's a bit prejudice as CEO of Karmann USA, which makes convertibles for several car models, including market leaders Chrysler Sebring and Ford Mustang.
Convertibles traditionally have been 2-door cars. Eyes to the future, Roeren sees an expansion to other types of vehicles.
Some auto makers had CUV/SUV convertible programs in the works, but financial belt-tightening has stopped those projects for now, he tells Ward's. “We think there's a market for such vehicles. We believe they will come out eventually.”
There are limits on which vehicles lend themselves as convertible spinoffs.
In 2005, ASC Inc., a Karmann competitor, unveiled a prototype ragtop version of the Chrysler 300 4-door sedan. ASC said it was “highly feasible” that an auto maker could put such a vehicle into production. There have been no takers.
Karmann did the retractable hardtop roof for the Chevrolet SSR, a curvy pickup truck that never caught on with consumers. It had a brief 3-year run, ending in 2006.
As for the chances of another convertible pickup truck going into development any time soon, Roeren says, “I haven't heard anything about that.”
Convertible sales are off. They dropped about 37% from 2007 to 2008, compared with an 18% decline for overall light vehicles.
“That's understandable,” Roeren says. “Convertibles are considered luxury items, and they're one of the first to be cut back when the economy goes bad. But their sales rebound quickly as the economy improves.”
When that hopeful event occurs this time around, a series of new ragtop offerings will debut, he predicts. “We'll see many more, including niche vehicles built at flexible manufacturing facilities.”
Roeren points to an increase in the number of vehicle brands with retractable hardtops. That includes Chrysler, BMW, Lexus and — the latest — Infiniti.
Hardtop convertibles attract more women than men, while softtops skew more towards male buyers, he says. “I have no idea why.”
Meanwhile, to cope with the current slack in business, Karmann started a new business unit to rebuild and restore droptops for vintage cars in the U.S., with an emphasis on Karmann Ghias and Volkswagen Beetles.