US car sales analysis 2017 Q4 – Small Sports segment

Fiat 124 Spyder and Mazda MX-5 grow fastest as collapse in Hyundai Veloster sales drags the segment down

Sales in the small sports segment collapse by 55.6% to 7,807 in the fourth quarter of 2017, leading to the highest-among-all-segments year-on-year sales decline in 2017 of 36.9%. Such a decline brought the total sales in 2017 down to 45,911, the lowest level since 2010. What is troubling is that while volatile, sales in this segment usually don’t go into full-on decline until the economy goes into a serious recession – while the US economy seems to be going strong for now, it’s curious whether the segment’s decline is a sign of things to come, or simply a swing in a small segment that relies heavily on a few models. In particular, the new Hyundai Veloster has already been shown in Detroit and is about to go on sale in early 2018, but it’s far from clear that it alone will be able to lift the segment out of the doldrums. And right now there are no other new cars on the 2018 horizon.


  • With a collapse in sales of almost 80% in Q4’17, it’s remarkable that Hyundai Veloster managed to hold onto the segment lead; more than anything, it highlights the slowdown in demand for the Mazda MX-5 Miata, whose sales were down 3% in the fourth quarter despite the new RF targa model joining the lineup
  • The recently-facelifted Toyota 86 (née Scion FR-S) and Subaru BRZ did well to avoid a big drop in sales given the shrinking segment and competition from the newer MX-5 and Fiat 124 Spyder

Clicking on the model name opens the sales data page for that model; clicking year in the legend turns the display for that year on/off

  • Speaking of, sales of the still-new Fiat 124 Spider already started falling quarter-on-quarter, with double-digit declines in Q3 and Q4’17, though it should be said that it did well in 2017 to outsell the Subaru BRZ, and come reasonably close to the Buick Cascada
  • 2017 saw the end of the line for two cars in the segment: the slow and rather un-sporty hybrid Honda CR-Z, and the Scion tC, which unlike its RWD cousin FR-S was not adopted by the Toyota brand when Scion was shut town

Note: clicking on the model names in legend turns the display for that model on/off; data is displayed from 1990 onwards, but starts earlier – access previous years using slider on bottom

  1. Where is the Subaru WRX and STI? I started on the make/model page for the WRX and was they prompted to see how the WRX is doing the small sports segment. However, it is not on the list for small sports.

    1. Good point, John.
      We’ll make sure to include it again in 2018. For 2017, the WRX/STI sold 31.358 units in the US, down 5.8 percent on 2016.

    2. I wouldn’t call the Subaru WRX/STI sports cars, but merely sports versions of a mainstream car. Just like the Ford Focus RS, Renault Mégane R.S. and Audi RS3.

      1. The WRX/STi is the very definition of a “gray zone”. Losange – as you rightly point out, the WRX/STi is not a stand-alone sports car, no matter what Subaru would like you to believe. At the same time John S is right to point out that, in many ways, it competes directly with the models listed here, which is very much the point of bringing these models together.

        What I will probably do will be to list the WRX/STi here for comparison, but not actually add it to the total tally, to avoid double-counting (like how I bring in eco cars to other segments)

  2. @KW

    Totally understandable, but then where does it end? The Audi S3 Limousine is smaller, less expensive, but has a bit more power. To me, the WRX/STI is the highest sporting trim of the Impreza sedan.

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