New Convertibles Invite Drivers to Come Out and Play

CONVERTIBLE makers and fans might be forgiven for humming a few bars of “Here Comes the Sun.”

Sports car sales went as cold as the economy during the recession. But with Americans shopping for shiny toys again, carmakers are tempting them with perhaps the most frivolous plaything of all: the sun-soaked, optimism-streaked convertible.

The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray and Ford Mustang, those American stalwarts, have new convertible versions, including the Corvette’s 650-horsepower Z06 edition, among the most powerful droptops in history. An all-new Chevy Camaro convertible joins them next year.

Jaguar’s rakish F-Type, in convertible or coupe form, is the British carmaker’s first two-seat sports car in 40 years. The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, with its Ferrariesque curves, is the debutante in Alfa’s ambitious plan to reintroduce its Italian cars to American society. Mercedes-Benz is readying an al fresco version of its AMG GT sports car, and BMW’s 4-Series is off to a strong sales start. A redesigned Mini Cooper convertible arrives in 2016.

Perhaps no convertible is whetting appetites like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, whose fourth-generation model reaches showrooms in July. Introduced as a 1990 model, the original, $14,069 Miata kicked off a golden age of convertibles, capturing the spirit of classic British and Italian roadsters — the Lotus Elan, Triumphs, MGs and Alfas — only with vastly superior Japanese quality.

The Miata found nearly 36,000 buyers in 1990, still its best sales year ever. Its revolutionary success spawned a wave of mostly pricier imitators from BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Audi, Pontiac and others.

But between the recession and the growing indifference to hair-mussing transport, Miata sales slowed to a trickle, along with those of other droptops: From a peak of nearly 420,000 cars in 2001, Americans bought fewer than 150,000 convertibles on average during recession years.

“Die-hards stayed with the segment, but the casual convertible buyer moved away, especially as S.U.V.s gained in popularity,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president for forecasting at LMC Automotive.

Count Mark Booth among the die-hards. Mr. Booth, co-founder of the San Diego Miata Club, plunked down a deposit for a 2016 Miata on May 5, the day Mazda began taking orders for the initial 1,000 “Launch Edition” Miatas.

“I haven’t had new-car fever like this since I was 20 years old,” said Mr. Booth, 58, a retired supermarket produce manager who expects his Mazda to arrive in July.

The new version, whose $25,735 base price nearly matches the original’s in inflation-adjusted dollars, is faster and more aggressive than its cute and cheerful predecessors.

Mr. Booth, whose new Miata will eventually replace his 2001 version — once he finds a deserving home for a car that has taken him and his wife on epic trips including traveling the old Route 66 — expects the new one to deliver its signature euphoric handling.

“Driving one is like putting on a roller skate,” he said. “And you don’t even need to break the speed limit to have fun. Just being out there on that two-lane blacktop with the top down is fabulous.”

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Convertible makers hope that kind of enthusiasm is contagious.

“When the industry slumped, performance cars suffered,” said Monte Doran, communications manager for Corvette and Camaro at G.M. “These are emotional purchases, not rational purchases, and convertibles perhaps even more so.”

Emotion seems in vogue again: Sales of the acclaimed Corvette doubled in a year, from barely 17,000 cars in 2013 to nearly 35,000 last year. Droptops account for one in five Corvette sales, a number that Chevy expects to rise thanks to the Z06 version.

“This is an amazing time for performance cars across the industry,” Mr. Doran said, adding that the Corvette’s arrival “was incredibly well timed.”

Mr. Schuster said that convertibles had also been hampered by a shortage of practical four-seat models. Once-popular family convertibles, including the Chrysler Sebring and PT Cruiser, are defunct.

Buick will look to rectify that with its first convertible in 25 years: The shapely Cascada, based on a Poland-built Opel from G.M.’s European division, will be exported here beginning next year.

Owners, makers and analysts are cautiously optimistic that convertibles will carve out a respectable niche — even if sales never reach their previous boomer-fueled heights. LMC Automotive projects annual sales will inch up to 171,000 by 2018, still only one of every 100 cars sold in America.

Even in California, whose car-culture touchstones range from hot rodding to the Beach Boys — and whose endless summer seems expressly made for convertibles — the passion for fun cars isn’t as ingrained as it used to be, Mr. Booth said. Younger generations find digital diversions or are more enamored with electric cars.

“I think you find younger people seeing the car as a way to get from point A to point B,” Mr. Booth said. “It’s a generalization, but cars have fallen from the popularity they had as a form of entertainment.”

Rod McLaughlin, vehicle line manager for the Miata, said that Americans were first exposed to sporty European convertibles by returning veterans of World War II.

“Now, there’s maybe a whole generation of Gen Xers and millennials who’ve never driven a roadster and have no frame of reference,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

The new Miata, he said, “could bust wide open and be a new renaissance for convertibles,” or just maintain the loyalty of longtime fans. “There’s no way to tell with certainty.”

In one way, the Miata is guaranteed to widen its reach: The featherweight Mazda will spawn a Fiat version to be called the 124 Spider, bringing Fiat back into the roadster fold in America.

While more than 100 Miata clubs around the country prove the car’s enduring hold on baby boomers, Mr. Booth says he believes that the sexier, faster 2016 model can lure younger fans. That said, perhaps there’s another reason that Americans have bypassed these once-ubiquitous sun worshipers.

“I think worries about melanoma scared people away more than anything,” he said with a laugh.

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