By on November 7, 2011

Sales analysis for calender-year 2011 hasn’t been easy, as supply disruptions in Asia have caused sales dips that may not be related to actual market demand. So, it’s not entirely surprising that Subaru’s sales numbers seem to be drooping this year, after two years of spectacular sales growth. Indeed, the brand’s sales releases make much of its inventory woes, although Subaru USA’s Thomas Doll still insists that

Based on the continuing strong demand for our products, increased supply through December and the launch of the all-new Impreza we expect to finish 2011 with the fourth consecutive year of sales growth for Subaru.

And he may be right (note: our estimate of declining 2011 volume above is non-seasonally-adjusted). In fact, through October, Subaru was less than 1% off its pace for the previous year’s sales through October. On the other hand, if you look at Subaru’s sales over the last 18 months, you’ll find that not all of its sales slippage can be blamed on the tsunami….

Much of Subaru’s sales growth over the last two years was driven by Forester, which rode a buoyant compact crossover segment near- Outback/Legacy levels in 2008 and 2009. Now that model is in steady decline, and has been for well over a year. Though less responsible for growth during Subaru’s boom years, Impreza has also dropped steadily over the last 18 months.Outback and Legacy, meanwhile, are relatively flat, with the Outback showing the strongest signs of strong but tsunami-stifled demand.

But here’s the troubling part of the graph: After a holiday spike last December, Subaru started the year off with its first back-to-back, seriously weak sales months in years. It was only just recovering to its previous habit of setting new monthly records when the tsunami hit, and things have been soft ever since. Meanwhile, According to Automotive News [sub] data, Subaru’s inventory in September (when the brand claimed lowest-ever dealer inventory) was the same in terms of vehicles-per-franchise (34) as December 1, 2010, when the brand’s sales spiked. So much for the inventory argument?

Subaru’s latest press releases  express optimism about the brand’s sales, arguing that they will be coming back in the coming months. We’ll be keeping an eye on those numbers, to see if there are more signs of a slowdown in consumer demand for Subarus or if a turnaround is coming. Certainly it seems that the meteoric growth of 2008-2010 is over for now, but where the brand goes from here remains very much to be seen. Will a considerably more fuel-efficient Impreza bring back the big “Mo,” or will the brand be waiting until a new Forester or Outback to get back on track? Or is Subaru’s day in the sun over, marking a return to its early consistent but unspectacular sales numbers? We’ll be watching…

 

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36 Comments on “Chart(s) Of The Day: Is Subaru’s Sales Streak Losing Steam?...”


  • avatar
    grzydj

    It’s hard to keep interest in a brand when their inventory is really low and there aren’t a whole lot of models to chose from within that limited amount inventory.

    I think it is going to be difficult for Subaru to regain momentum, especially considering how much more competition there is in the ever growing CUV segment.

    • 0 avatar
      Turkina

      “It’s hard to keep interest in a brand when their inventory is really low and there aren’t a whole lot of models to chose from within that limited amount inventory.”

      You sound like an apologist for GM dealerships ;)

      Honestly, I wouldn’t touch the current Impreza with a 10 foot pole, knowing that the new version is coming out with the revised powertrain. The Forester is also starting to suffer from “waiting for the new model to come out” as well. You can discern it a bit because the Impreza and Forester numbers are dropping, while the Legacy and Outback figures have risen. I would say those buyers are sold on the idea of owning a Subaru, just not the models at the end of their cycle. In the past couple years, Subaru had models that were either new or midway and their numbers were great. Now it’s midway and old, with new coming up. This happens for all manufacturers, but the ones with a more extensive product line should expect more ‘even’ year-to-year numbers due to cars being at all points on the product cycle.

      • 0 avatar
        grzydj

        I’m speaking from personal experience actually. The ’12 Impreza was supposed to be ready a few months ago, but it is now being pushed out to December for delivery dates, and even that is tentative.

        Foresters and Outback were on the radar, but the level of trim I wanted for either model was either out of stock, or was unable to get until the next model year. I’m not in that much of a hurry to get into a newer car, so I’ll wait and see how things pan out.

      • 0 avatar
        Volt 230

        Subaru turns off millions of potential buyers who don’t need AWD and don’t want the extra expense and maintenance required for such systems, not to mention the lower mpg’s

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-X

        My 1999 Outback’s AWD sucked. It offered no extra stability in the snow, since you needed to spin the front tires a lot to get it to engage. I’ll take my Suburban’s Automatic 4WD over that any day, and take the 4 mpg penalty. Yes, just 4 mpg. But wait, that’s not all! Subaru’s reliability is spotty; I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a 25% lemon-rate. The cost of repairs goes up HUGE with the miles, and they need constant and expensive maintenance. Every one of the four I’ve owned has had some idiotic thing wrong with it. My last one was THE last one. Fragile. Money pit. Never again. NEVER.

      • 0 avatar
        GarbageMotorsCo.

        The new Impreza is supposed to achieve 35mpg highway with AWD and an Automatic (2mpg off for the stick) and while being a smaller displacement, Subaru lightened up the car enough to beat the current Impreza to 60 and still achieve stellar crash test scores.

        For the proposed 18 grand starting price, an AWD, 35mpg hatchback with a stick is an outstanding value. Certainly moreso than a comparable Honda Civic, Mazda 3 or Focus.

  • avatar
    Sundowner

    Subarus, I think, have been popular because they represent a relatively inexpensive alternative to higher priced vehicles with AWD and, generally speaking, don’t suffer the reliability stigma of Audi’s or the ‘bailout’ stigma of GM. However, they get nigh miserable fuel economy and are generally hideous to look at while also offering extraordinarily cheap interior fittings. If subaru could actually summon an attractive design with decent fuel economy, they’d be unstoppable.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      I have to agree with you, Sundowner: I just spent a few days in my parents ’10 Outback while my Audi was in the shop (stop ya’lls laughing – this was actually scheduled maintenance) and I have to say that it’s not a bad vehicle, but the criticisms levied above are all accurate. The car utterly lacks refinement in the transmission and NVH departments and the interior a sea of faux-junk that really needs some work.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        hreardon

        Completely agree. Brand new Subarus have regressed big time, while their transmission options have slipped from “blah, but ok” to frankly uncompetitive as other manufacturers have moved on. What I don’t understand is why Suzuki isn’t stepping up to undermine Subuarus position. The best conceived Subaru on the market is actually the Sx4 in my opinion, and I’ve seen several given pride of place (front and center lawn) at Subaru dealerships after they’ve been brought in as trade-ins. Cheap-ish, cheerful, very Japanese, blah interiors and all wheel drive, this all sounds very Subaru to me.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m surprised you’d pick on fuel economy. AFAIK, the Subaru Outback 4-cylinder gets rather great mileage for its size/specs/abilities, and the new Impreza is impressive in that department. What with a 4-speed auto, the poor Forester can’t help but fall behind.

      In terms of ugliness? Only the new Outback/Legacy is truly ugly, to the point that I couldn’t buy one. I find the Forester well proportioned and plainly handsome, and the new Impreza looks fairly good (certainly better than the Matrix/Civic/etc.).

  • avatar
    200k-min

    I think Subaru’s problem is that they are just another CUV these days. An also-ran in a crowded segment isn’t where you want to be. The old Subaru’s were unique…they were AWD wagons. The original Forester started raising the height. Today the Forester is pretty much a full blown SUV while the Outback is bigger than the original Forester. Why wouldn’t I now cross shop Subaru with the CUV’s from everyone else? Go back to wagons – true AWD wagons and I think you’d get your mojo back.

    I’d even go so far as to suggest they dump the AWD and actually offer a fuel efficient FWD wagon. AWD is actually needed for 0.01% of Subaru drivers anyway.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Subaru like Honda has lost its soul (but has different issues).

    Known for quirky designs, Subaru is going more and more mainstream, and the spirit of being the anti-SUV (and the original CUV one could argue), the boy racer design of the WRX, the funky Baja, and a reputation of making bullet proof powertrains equipped with AWD is a thing largely of the past. Decontenting has resulted in declining quality, cheap interiors, fuel economy not keeping up with the competition, and harsh drive trains that no longer have the never say die last forever can’t kill them if you tried reputation. Find an old Subbie GL10 out there and they just run, rot is killing them off before the drivelines fail.

    What Subaru has started to offer in the last 36 months is the same blah vanilla that is coming from Toyota and Honda, and what a shock, sales are slowing down, loyal owners are questioning the company’s direction, and the latest iteration of the Legacy looks more like a Camry than Subaru’s funky roots.

    It appears the marriage of Toyota and Subaru is the match made in Hell that people feared would be the case when Subaru was married to General Motors.

    Subaru needs to get back to its roots, fast, or it will be a company lost without a direction, following in the footsteps of Mazda.

    • 0 avatar
      grzydj

      It’s interesting that you mention this because Subaru did lots of market studies and found that even their most loyal customers wanted a more mainstream vehicle and also found that people would be willing to buy their vehicles if they were more mainstream. So what does Subaru do? They go more mainstream to give buyers what they want, and it turns out they really don’t want what they want(ed)??

      As far as the Toyota Subaru marriage, it’s not as close as you think it is. The new Legacy was something that Subaru produced on its own without any direction or influence from Toyota whatsoever.

      The only thing that happened with the GM marriage to Subaru was the Baja, which Subaru designed for GM. GM deemed it to be too small, so GM came out with the Avalanche, and Subaru made the Baja for themselves, but never really knew how or when to market it. Years after it went out of production, it has become sort of a cult favorite and demands pretty high resale value. Subaru did get a hold of some the buying power that GM had at the time, which allowed it to put together a US compliant emissions package that put the WRX on US shores… so it wasn’t all bad really.

      If anything, GM got the short end of the deal.

      • 0 avatar
        RedStapler

        Interesting..I never knew that the Baja was a 3/4 size proto-avalanche.

        The other love child of the GM-Subaru hookup was the 9-2X Saabaru. For awhile it was the bargain basement way to get a Turbo Impreza.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    Here in the DC area, we had two enormous storms two winters ago (late December and mid-February), and another this past January. Between the two winters we became a two-Subaru family with the purchase of a sibling’s ’06 Forester 5-speed. (He lives a few hundred miles north and is on his seventh or eighth, a Legacy this time.)

    I’m unable to bring much enthusiasm to the current offerings (although I have some hope that the new Impreza will be more appealing). But no one here has considered that with more unpredictable weather during recent winters, at least in the entire Northeast region (not just New England), Subaru will not likely have much of a sales decline. People see a lot of them being driven around here, and once the weather hits, they don’t wonder why.

    • 0 avatar
      200k-min

      Here in the DC area, we had two enormous storms two winters ago (late December and mid-February), and another this past January.

      A good friend used to have a late 90′s Outback and he did say it handled very well in the snow/ice. That said, he lives in MN and has coped just fine in the winter with standard FWD ever since. Horrid fuel economy made him switch and the $$$ he saves all year makes up for the extremely rare instance where AWD would be truly needed.

      Largely I think AWD is a marketing ploy the public has ate up. Most people never drive where they need it. Even mountain towns in CO and MT where I’ve seen a lot of Subarus don’t necessarily require AWD. I’ve done just fine with FWD and RWD vehicles with snow tires.

      AWD has worked well for Subaru, much like the sporting “Zoom-Zoom” has worked for Mazda, but in reality both brands are relatively a niche player with fanboy base. Selling the whole granola, we’re different theme is fine, but the vehicles aren’t different enough from the CRV’s and RAV4′s to carry through.

  • avatar
    mjz

    Subaru buyers are waiting for the new Impezza, and the Forester is still soildering on with an ancient 4-speed automatic. That’s why.

    • 0 avatar
      aspade

      No, Subaru buyers are waiting for the dealership to get any cars in. Cars.com shows just 3,500 new Foresters on lots in the entire country. cf the Escape (21,500), CR-V (13,400) and Rav4 (8,900).

      • 0 avatar
        200k-min

        What’s the annual volume of the Forester vs. the Escape, CRV, Rav4?? The Forester has lot number to reflect their volume.

      • 0 avatar
        aspade

        Subaru sold 85K Foresters in 2010 without an earthquake. cf CR-V 205K, Escape 190K, Rav4 171K.

        The Rav and Forester are made in Japan. The Escape and CR-V with massive dealer inventory aren’t.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        The Rav and Forester are made in Japan. The Escape and CR-V with massive dealer inventory aren’t.

        Not sure about the Forester, and but the Rav is built in Canada.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    2010 was an aberration.
    It was an odd winning combination that I do not see repeating.

    What they need to do is ensure that their replacement products are distinctive enough to be seen. Athough they won 2010 with a rather sad boring design, I don’t recommend they attempt something similar.

    Subaru represented a useful utility vehicle of decent quality for a barely competative price. They appeal to folks who consider themselves iconoclastic.

    There are only so many iconoclasts. They all seemed to have gone out an bought a new Subaru recently.

  • avatar
    Jim Zellmer

    I purchased a (seemingly rare) 2011 Forester 5-speed earlier this year. I’ve been averaging 24 to 26mpg in the city and as high as 31 on the highway, shockingly, at speed.

    It’s been a better car than I expected. Styling could be improved, but the essence is quite good. I agree with the slush box criticism. A 4 speeder is so 1980′s, or was it the ’70′s?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    So far this year, Subaru has sold fewer vehicles in the US than Nissan has sold Altimas. Their sales are a drop in the bucket.

    It’s a niche brand, always has been and probably always will be. It makes sense for a company in Subaru’s position to tightly target the market and to offer just a few models that have limited appeal but that can still be sold at a profit. They can’t compete head-on against the majors, and have no reason to try.

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      Moreover, a little less than 20 years ago, they DID try – Subaru of America offered FWD and AWD versions of everything from the Justy to the SVX – and Subaru almost had to leave the U.S. market as a result. (See the book Where the Suckers Moon concerning the associated “What to Drive” ad campaign.)

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Subaru of America offered FWD and AWD versions of everything from the Justy to the SVX – and Subaru almost had to leave the U.S. market as a result

        Yes, doing too much is a recipe for failure. For Subaru to succeed at that level, it would have to aggressively take sales from its competition, including its benefactor Toyota. That wouldn’t be such a great idea.

        It makes sense for Subaru to specialize in AWD because it gives it a niche that makes it different enough to make it worthwhile for another larger OEM to invest in it. Without some sort of relationship with a larger automaker, Subaru could disappear. By offering something a bit different, it can maintain that sort of investment and technology sharing that allows it to stay in business.

  • avatar
    niky

    While I love the Forester to death… despite the fact that the automatics don’t seem as bomb-proof as years before… despite all the head-gasket horror stories… despite the fact that in repackaging the rear suspension, Subaru decided, much like BMW did with the MINI, that… no, you don’t need rear cargo space… where was I again?

    While I love the free and frisky Forester to death, there’s no denying that it and the Impreza are on a downcurve.

    New models are needed… perhaps even… gasp… front-wheel drive models or AWD models which default to 100% FWD or RWD (really, it doesn’t matter which)… with better packaging, better design and better efficiency.

    • 0 avatar
      grzydj

      The ’12 Impreza is slated to get 36 mpg when mated with the CVT.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      Highway. Maybe. Against 38-40 mpg competitors, not great, but not bad. But the real issue with all-wheel drive is its effect on city economy, when you’re accelerating the whole driveline and associated mass, not when you’re dawdling along in top gear at 60-80 mph.

      • 0 avatar
        grzydj

        FWD cars against an AWD car, the difference going to the FWD car with a projected 2 – 4 mpg advantage. I’ll take AWD any day of the week, no matter what the climate is.

        I’m getting ready to put snow tires on all the AWD Subaru’s in the garage. Winter is never, ever an issue for me for a single second.

      • 0 avatar
        grzydj

        You may be interested to know that the EJ series engine is being phased out in the Impreza and Forester and has bee replaced with the FB series engine, which is a similar, but radical departure from the 20 something year old design the FB replaces.

        First of all, the FB now features a timing chain with dual overhead cams and the coolant passages are much improved. I’m hopeful that this will eliminate all the associated head gasket issues that plagued the EJ series engine. One other cool feature is that the oil filter is right on top of the engine and can be changed in seconds.

        EDIT: The new FB engine is already in the ’11 Forester as a 2.5 liter and will be in the ’12 Impreza as a 2.0 liter.

        As for keeping your EJ from puking its head gaskets out, be sure to flush the coolant every 30k miles (like it says in the owners manual) and use the Subaru Super coolant, and the recommended additive. You really can have a headgasket problem free EJ if you keep up on your maintenance.

        Holy crap, I need to stop rambling about Subaru stuff. Sorry.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      Tires, tires, tires and more tires. And even more tires. Every non-turbo Subaru I’ve ever driven has given up a massive amount of performance to its front wheel drive competitors, and quite a bit of city economy, to boot, however close the highway numbers may seem.

      The only good reason to go for all-wheel drive over front-wheel drive is for the out-of-corner traction at full throttle… which only matters when you’re approaching 300 bhp.

      For a base Impreza, at just 150 (2 liter) to 170 (2.5 liter) bhp, meant as a grocery-getter for a small family, you’re never going to need all wheel drive. Ever. Or a low-range gearbox. Which makes it funny that you get one with the Impreza… at least in our market. Even funnier considering it has less than five inches of ground clearance and would high center in anything but the lightest slush.

      Front-wheel drive, momentum and good tires are all you’ll ever need. Doesn’t matter how many driven wheels there are, when you’re dug in and have no grip, you’re stuck.


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