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…