VIEWS: 10 PAGES: 2 POSTED ON: 1/18/2011
Convertibles give annoyances like road noise, and leaky roof. To counter these and other annoyances, the auto industry thinks it has found the solution: the retractable hardtop. There were two mass-production retractable cars on the market and both were built by Mercedes-Benz. And now, 10 models are being sold under nine nameplates, and for sure, more could be on the way. After decades as a bit more than a footnote in auto history, the retractable hardtop became hot. It is intended for people who want to blend the sun and fun of a convertible with the amenity and security of a coupe. And the roof-retracting system — just one punch of a button and the top slides into the trunk — attracts something that each automaker craves: attention. Lonnie Miller, the Director of Industry Analysis for Industry Researcher R.L. Polk & Co., said that the retractable hardtops are showroom vehicles that really catch the public's attention as the go ‘ohh and ahh'. Before, convertibles were coifed in cloth or vinyl. They were cool to drive but not practical. This was for the reason that they were basically part-time vehicles, sometimes even in sunny conditions. Owners routinely left their cars unlocked rather than face the cost of repairing sliced roofs. Security still remained an issue despite the fact that engineering and insulation reduced some problems. Only the extremely well-muscled hardtops had to be removed manually. If you enter a retractable, push a button. Observe that what appears to be a solid sheet of auto-grade steel rears up and back, folds neatly into three or more sections and disappears into the trunk. Historically, according to Rick Deneau of Chrysler Group, convertibles have been thought of almost as luxury cars because they are not supposed to be practical. But he adheres to the thinking that it is not the case anymore today. He continued that Focus group participants who shied away from traditional convertibles found the new Sebring alluring. He said that the participants perceive it as "more of a 365-day-a-year car that was both practical and fun to drive." With the introduction of the costly Mercedes SLK, the recent run of hardtops started in the late 1990s. As years pass by, they have become more affordable. The Pontiac G6, Volkswagen Eos and Mazda Miata MX-5 including some Mazda accessories all start below $30,000, and the Sebring has a base sticker price under $32,000. Marna Wood bought a copper-red MX-5 in January. The 52-year old Highland, Calif. resident and her husband have owned several Miatas, which are sold only in drop-top versions. Even though it cost about $2,000 more than a comparably equipped soft top, the MX-5's retractable roof was something new and appealing. Wood said she liked the hardtop from the perspective that it is nice and easy to put up and down, and one just need to push a button. She continued that the top up is more quite than the soft top. Moreover, she also appreciates that like other hardtop manufacturers, Mazda has designed the car so that the retracting top does not eat up the entire available trunk space, which is a common problem with older models. Mazda boasts that even with the top down, the trunk can hold a big textile bag, two sets of golf clubs or a couple cases of wine. The ability to provide a reasonably sized trunk is another reason why retractable hardtops are suddenly popular. Despite the rebirth of convertibles, the style is not expected to win back the broad popularity it enjoyed during the '50s and '60s, when automakers offered drop-top versions of most of their lineup. The more than 30 convertible models that are now being sold only account for about 2 percent of total U.S. new vehicle sales.
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