Warm and hot hatches could be given a lifeline through rapidly emerging sales opportunities in China and elsewhere in Asia, although the sales rise could lead to the performance of the cars being watered down.
It is understood that sales of performance versions of standard cars have grown significantly in China in recent years as a car culture has developed among a generation of buyers wanting to drive rather than be driven.
Given the cost of developing warm and hot hatches, plus the limited sales potential of such cars in Europe and the US, the growth in interest in sales across Asia is seen by some manufacturers as an opportunity to strengthen the business case for continuing to develop such models.
However, an insider told Autocar: “The problem is that some of these cars are simply too tricky to drive for people with no real experience of fast cars, especially given some of the road conditions. The culture of track days is also some way from evolving, especially outside of Shanghai and the biggest cities where most of the wealth is.
“Some manufacturers are looking at toning down the sportiness of the cars - and that could end up influencing the type of car that’s sold around the world.
“If these markets grow enough, they could dictate what kind of cars get developed. At the moment they’re not after the raw, exaggerated hot hatches Europe is used to. Often, it is more about the visual statement a car makes than the last degrees of speed.
“For the makers, that presents a challenge: they can’t throw away the heritage built up around their ‘ultimate’ models, but nor can they ignore what their biggest markets want. Sales are unlikely to be enough to justify developing cars in two different directions.”