When Ford announced it was significantly cutting back its lineup of traditional cars in favor of SUVs and trucks, we all wondered whether other automakers would follow suit. So far, they haven’t. And it doesn’t look like Subaru is heading in this direction, either. Subaru’s traditional cars are still important to the lineup, according to Dominick Infante, Subaru’s national manager of product communications.
Sales of the Crosstrek are up 66.6 percent during the first four months of the year, providing an indication of where the market is heading right now. But Infante says don’t count out sedans and traditional cars, especially as gas prices increase. “Gas prices are starting to come up now. So a good hedge for better economy is having a sedan.”
“So we still make the Impreza and the Impreza hatchback,” Infante pointed out as examples. “They do get better gas mileage than say a comparable CUV like the Crosstrek so we do sell those so if the market does change that’ll help sales of sedans.”
In the first four months of 2018, sales of the Impreza were down 16.3 percent while sales of the Legacy dropped 13.9 percent. Meanwhile, the WRX/STI fell 8.2 percent while the BRZ was down 10.1 percent. The Outback managed to increase 2 percent in an industry where sales are starting to cool off. The Forester has fallen 9.7 percent, but a next-generation model is slated to go on sale later this year.
To further capitalize on the growing crossover market, Subaru is getting ready to sell the three-row Ascent. Unlike the old three-row Tribeca, this new SUV is sized properly to compete with the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot.
Subaru says its products attract young buyers, particularly the BRZ and WRX/ STI with customers in their late 20s and early 30s. Other products draw in plenty of empty nesters. Because Subaru was lacking a three-row entry for some time, customers have moved to other brands when they’re in the middle stage of life parenting young kids.
“[Customers] stay with the brand except for this one area when they have children starting to become 8 years old or so,” said Infante. “[That’s] when they tend to say, OK, my Outback or Forester is too small and they want to transport other kids [and] families so then they leave the brand and they would go to our competitors. So they could buy a Honda Pilot or a Highlander and then come back when their kids are out of high school and buy an Outback. It’s kind of funny, they would come back or they would have their second car which would stay being a Subaru but we would lose them in that one area.”
Infante continued, “Basically it’s an open door where the customers are just walking out. Now we’ve got something to fill that in and keep them in a Subaru.”
Subaru is still a niche player in the auto industry, and Infante said it’s not the company’s goal to become as big as Honda or Toyota. Its market share in the U.S. sits at just under 4 percent, although it has grown from 2004 when it commanded barely 1 percent of the market. Now, Subaru is deciding on the best ways to grow in the future.
“We’re happy being a smaller player but it’s how small. Do we want to be a little bit bigger than we are? Do we want to go up to one more plant or not? That’s going to be our big decision now. It will be coming in the future. We’re not quite there yet but we are getting there. We are getting close to our maximum capacity [in the] next few years or so.”