Mazda's Miata sports car triumphed in 2020 thanks to dealer incentives and buyers needing a pandemic escape

  • Winter is generally a time when convertibles sell slowly, but the Mazda Miata experienced strong sales in December 2020.
  • Miata sales increased by 58.1% between December 2019 and December 2020 and increased by 13.6% overall between 2019 and 2020.
  • This was potentially due to people having extra disposable income lying around and extra dealership incentives, according to analysts from iSeeCars, Edmunds, the Cox Automotive.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Mazda Miata has long been recognized as the best-selling sports car and it's easy to see why. Lightweight, fun, and cheap, the Miata possesses the three magic ingredients of what makes a sports car excellent. 

True, Miatas don't sell in volume like trucks and SUVs do, but Miata sales actually managed to be positive last year over 2019 sales numbers, thus reversing a generally negative sales trend since 2017.

The numbers don't lie

In particular, Mazda's end-of-year sales data yielded an interesting trend: 2020 saw Mazda's highest December Miata sales since 2016, the model year of the newest generation of the car.

According to Mazda's own sales data, the automaker sold 706 Miatas in December 2015. That number rose slightly to 733 Miatas sold in December 2016, fell to 493 in December 2017, rose very slightly again to 511 in December 2018, dropped to 439 in December 2019, and increased pretty significantly to 694 Miatas in December 2020.

As Insider has previously reported, many people with disposable income who were forced to stay home this year because of the pandemic didn't spend the money on vacations or trips like they otherwise would have. Instead, many turned to buying a fun car, such as a sports car or something vintage. 

Analysts weigh in

"We've seen sports car and convertible sales and prices spike over the past 12 months," Karl Brauer, iSeeCars.com executive analyst, told Insider. "It's a reflection of people wanting to take back some level of control in their life during the pandemic, and many of them want to do this in a fun, life-affirming way.

"It doesn't get much more fun and life-affirming than buying and driving a convertible, especially for consumers who have always wanted one but couldn't justify it on a rational level. The past year has led plenty of consumers to redefine what's rational."

iSeeCars also reported that used Miata sales declined 29.4% in December 2020 over December 2019, with a 13% increase in average price. 

"The December decline in [used] sales represents people with Miatas holding onto them, and the higher prices reflect the lower supply and the increased demand for these vehicles," an iSeeCars representative added. 

The agency pointed to a study it conducted in October, which found that convertibles experienced the biggest price increase across all segments.

An Edmunds spokesperson agreed, saying its analysts also saw a trend of consumers "opting for pricier and sportier vehicles during the pandemic," though they couldn't say for sure what caused it. The person said since roadsters already sell in such low volume, "anything from good incentive programs or inventory shipments could easily move 100 or so units."

A spokesperson with Cox Automotive, which owns Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, said Miatas aren't the only convertibles buyers flocked to. The Fiat 124 Spider and Porsche Boxster both experienced stronger December 2020 sales than in previous years. 

"It is possible that disposable income has been reallocated to sportster/roadster type cars due to cancellations in recreational activities," they told Insider. "Additionally, it seems that incentives have gone up for some models like the [Fiat] 124 Spider, [Lexus] LC, [Mazda] Miata, and [Mercedes-Benz] SLC compared to 2019, which may be drawing in the additional sales."

They sent along this chart outlining the increased incentives:

Though it seems counterintuitive to buy a sports car in December in the US — most people don't equate cold weather with convertibles — it might actually be the best time to do it. 

"As December rolls around, some dealers may start sweating their annual sales goals," US News explained. "If it doesn't look like they'll meet those numbers, you may be able to play this for a great deal.

"If a dealer can hit annual sales goals, there may be a bonus in play for them. This makes it very attractive for them to let a car roll off the lot with very favorable terms for the shopper."

But whatever the terms for December's Miata buyers, we hear they took home a pretty good — and pretty timeless — car.

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