More Americans are going topless - at least when it comes to what kind of car they buy.
Convertibles were a fading breed not long ago. But they're making a comeback with three straight years of climbing sales, following a trend that began in the early 1990s, according to ASC Inc., supplier of convertible systems.
Americans bought 244,435 ragtops last year, up from 221,828 in 1997. Convertibles now make up 3% of total car deliveries. That's a feat that hasn't happened in 20 years, ASC Marketing Manager Mark Pauze says.
He attributes the resurgence to a wide range of convertibles available in every price category from "entry- level" models such as the Chevrolet Cavalier to "luxury" renditions such as the Mercedes Benz SLK.
Predictably, entry-level models most often are purchased by younger buyers as primary vehicles, whereas luxury brands have a strong empty-nester demographic and are purchased by those who can "afford to splurge a bit" on a second or third vehicle that may be driven only once in awhile, Mr. Pauze says.
ASC says that Los Angeles and New York were the top two markets last year, followed by Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Orlando, Philadelphia, Washington and Atlanta. The top five markets represented 34% of sales for the year.
Even though the Chrysler Sebring was the top-selling convertible for the third year in a row, ASC says that imports have the volume edge at slightly more with 52% of sales.
Although data isn't available yet, convertible sales are expected to grow grow significantly in 1999 and beyond as automakers add more models to their lineups and Americans try to add more fun, fun, fun to their life on the road.