By on April 13, 2017

2017 Subaru Ascent Concept - Image: Subaru

Still nearly eight months away from being revealed in final production form, it’s already assumed inside Subaru HQ that the 2018 Subaru Ascent will generate the bulk of its conquests from inside the Subaru family.

Subaru expects to sell approximately 60,000 Ascents on an annual basis in the United States. But according to statements made about the long-awaited three-row Tribeca replacement by Subaru CEO Yasuyuki Yoshinaga at last month’s Geneva Motor Show, the Ascent won’t be stealing many sales of the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, and Nissan Pathfinder.

Hey, Outback and Forester: Subaru’s looking at you for donations to the Ascent’s cause.

Yoshinaga, Autotrader.ca reported as saying, won’t be a conquest vehicle. At least, not in the traditional sense of bringing buyers in from outside the Subaru network. Automotive News says Yoshinaga claims the Ascent won’t siphon a large percentage of sales from established vehicles.

Subaru, which has grown rapidly in North America, could simply be operating with an abundance of caution. After all, there are concerns with adding too many sales at too many dealers that can’t keep up with the service requirements. “We have grown so fast over such a short time, the service part of our network hasn’t kept up,” Subaru of America president Tom Doll said earlier this year.

Subaru’s Yoshinaga, not unwisely, could also be reigning in expectations. Though Subaru’s U.S. volume nearly doubled between 2012 and 2016 and more than tripled since the recession, Subaru remains a relatively small automaker by global standards. And while Subaru generates healthy volume from the majority of its products, none are outright chart toppers in terms of total U.S. volume. Through the first-quarter of 2017, the Outback and Forester are America’s 23rd and 24th-best-selling vehicles.

At roughly 60,000 annual U.S. sales, the Subaru Ascent will be producing roughly one-fourth the Ford Explorer’s volume, one-third the Toyota Highlander’s volume, and roughly half the Honda Pilot’s volume. An average of 5,000 monthly sales will put the Ascent well back of the Nissan Pathfinder, more in line with vehicles such as the Dodge Durango and Buick Enclave, albeit measurably more popular than the Mazda CX-9.

Subaru is well aware — perhaps more aware than any outsider — how many of its own current customers would be inclined to stay in the Subaru family if only they could. The Tribeca wasn’t a successful example of a vehicle that could keep Subaru owners inside Subaru showrooms. Fewer than 80,000 Tribecas were sold in America over the course of a decade.

2017 Subaru Ascent interior cutaway – Image: Subaru

But the Ascent, thinly veiled in its New York International Auto Show concept debut this week, is properly large. Its wheelbase stretches to a Ford Flex-like 117 inches, which should facilitate third-row comfort in a segment where the Explorer, Highlander, and Pilot offer 113, 110, and 111 inches of wheelbase.

Styling is subjective, of course, but no one would argue that the Ascent is a Tribeca-esque affront to good sense.

And while Subaru was still a niche automaker when the aggressively priced and undersized Tribeca hit the market more than a decade ago, Subaru is perceived in a very different way by much of the American car-buying public in 2017.

Thus, while Subaru’s CEO seems to believe the Ascent only has the potential to steal sales away from increasingly successful Subaru nameplates, the future is likely much brighter for the 2018 Ascent. Subaru’s too hot for it not to be.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

52 Comments on “The Subaru Ascent Will Cannibalize Outback And Forester; Even Subaru Thinks So...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    It’s OK to cannibalize your own sales, as long as the replacement sale is more profitable. And this vehicle will be.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      That was exactly my thought – even if they sell one less Forester and one more of these, there will be more $$ here. But I don’t think a lot of this will happen. If I need 3-row car, do I buy Forester or Outback? – no, I go to another manufacturer.

      Also, this article mentions that projected sales will be 1/4 of Explorer and 1/3 of Highlander. Driving everyday in my area, I couldn’t even think that Explorer sells better than Highlander. I could see few Explorers every day but I would see 10s of Highlanders.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        The current CUV-ified Explorer is more common than dirt here in the Midwest. I really don’t care for them personally, but understand the popularity. The bigger surprise is seeing 4Runners explode like they have. Everyone told us that consumers are horrified by BOF MPG, ride and handling, packaging, etc.

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          No kidding on the 4Runner explosion. Over the past year I’ve seen a lot of new ones running around, mostly SR5s driven by women who–if I give in to profiling–look like they never have, never will, never want to take the vehicle off the pavement where it belongs.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Fine by me! The more that flood the market, the more lightly used variants there will be to choose from if/when I finally decide to upgrade from my trusty 3rd gen. Sadly it is mostly SR5s, I really would only buy a Trail Premium. Gotta have that locker and manual t-case, and you’re not getting the full experience of the roll-down rear window without the moonroof open IMO.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            The SR5 looks butch enough for that kind of buyer without hitting the $42K price tag of a Trail + KDSS. I use mine off pavement and still couldn’t justify that price premium over the SR5.

            Your future aftermarket search may be difficult, those with the Trail know what they have and how much to charge. Keep that gen 3 going!

        • 0 avatar
          SuperCarEnthusiast

          I think that is the spin by MSM inspired by environmentalists pundits! If you look around in the shopping centers, many ladies drive full size real body on frame trucks, not crossovers like you would think a stereotypical soccer mom would drive!

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      A lot of people bought the Outback and Forester for their size, and others bought them because there was no bigger model available. the 2001 Forester was 176″ and is now 182″, while the Outback went from 184″ to 189″. SOME additional sales were to people who wanted three rows, but settled for the somewhat larger models.

      What Subaru COULD have done is introduced a longer wheelbase model of each, keeping the compact and midsize models for those who didn’t want the extra row or a bigger vehicle. Instead, they came up with a bigger new model that will draw those who weren’t happy with the existing models, but there’s still base versions that people will stick with.

      Subaru is just spreading its customer base over a wider vehicle lineup, because new models sell better than stretched versions would, at first. I suspect people who buy Foresters will largely stick with the compact size over a larger midsize-plus Ascent. People who don’t want to sit high and just drive a wagon may not want to switch to the Ascent, since it isn’t a carlike wagon.

      Anybody here have a Forester/Outback who would go to a bigger CUV for the 3 rows? I honestly don’t think there’s that many.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        It’s a natural progression for any growing automaker to introduce vehicles into segments they haven’t been in the past. Certainly there are people who are happy with the size/capabilities of a Impreza/Forester/Outback and don’t want to move anywhere up or down a class. But there are many people who might start with one model, enjoy it and will at least consider by way of positive association with the make once their needs change/family grows and they need to move up a class.

        See Toyota/Honda with vans/CUVs, Hyundai/Kia with a whole spate of larger vehicles while starting with cheap sedans, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        eakratz

        “Anybody here have a Forester/Outback who would go to a bigger CUV for the 3 rows? I honestly don’t think there’s that many.”

        Forester and Impreza hatch owner here. When Kid #1, who is 2 and a half years old, graduates from daycare and we get that thousand per month back we plan on getting rid of the Impreza for a three row. When we heard Subaru was going to make this, we thought we’d consider it but I am assuming this is going to be priced well above a 3.6 Limited Outback which is already way more than we would spend on a car.

        I showed this to the wife and she likes it, but then said “But the sliding doors on a minivan…” I think I will be inheriting the Forester from her and she’ll be driving a one or two year old Odyssey or Sedona.

        So I guess the answer is maybe. If this had sliding doors, we might consider it because we like our Subarus, but really for us a minivan makes more sense. And I think we are typical Subaru drivers. New England, two kids, dog owner, kayak and hiking…

      • 0 avatar
        vtnoah

        I did just that. We’ve driven a Forester for the past 6 years. Just traded it in for a Highlander to fit our twins, all their stuff, occasionally Grandma and Grandpa, and soon a dog. If the Ascent was available now we would have taken a serious look at one. The Forester was a good car but we were often running out of space for trips. I have a feeling Subaru will do well with the Ascent.

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    Sometimes brand cannibalism is a good thing. Looks like Subaru is wanting to consolidate their SUV customer base to two brands (Outback and Ascent) instead of being spread out across multiple different vehicle models (Forrester,Outback,Impreza CUV,etc).

    • 0 avatar
      djsyndrome

      This comment makes zero sense. Are you implying the other models are going away? Because nothing in Subaru’s stable is going anywhere in the foreseeable future (except maybe the BRZ).

  • avatar
    phila_DLJ

    I think Yoshinaga-san is being a bit cautiously pessimistic.

    They struck out with a big CUV before (albeit a much stranger one), so they’re not comfortable coming right out and saying this will be a smash hit. And it probably won’t be, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not about domination or conquest, it’s about covering their bases.

    The bottom line is that there are customers surveying the present crop of Subarus who don’t see anything big enough for their needs. Those customers weren’t ever going to go with the smaller Outback or Forester, but with the Ascent, they’ll finally have a choice.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Does the Highlander cannibalize RAV4 sales? I think not.

      Does the Traverse cannibalize Equinox sales? I think not.

      I think this would be more likely to stop some of the Subaru faithful from defecting to another brand when they decide they just have to have that third row for when its there turn to take all of junior’s soccer friends home from practice.

      • 0 avatar
        vtnoah

        Principal Dan. Correct. We would have seriously considered the Ascent if it was available when it was time to trade in our Forester. Instead we went with a Highlander. And to those who ask why we didn’t get a Sienna, trust me, I made a solid case but the Highlander won out due to better pricing and it’s ability to seat 8 vs 7 on the similarly trimmed Sienna.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Anecdotally, I know several ex Subaruites who bought the latest Pilot when it came out.

        Topping out at the Outback, is not ideal in an era when even San Francisco lebians “need” more space than an airport shuttle.

        I suspect this one will sell well for them, assuming it is any good. It may slowly chip away at their brand’s identity at the the end, though. But as BMW is only now starting to experience, that doesn’t show up in sales numbers for several decades.

    • 0 avatar
      VW4motion

      If anything the new Ascent will bring more buyers into the Subaru dealership. I would guess buyers cross shopping the Pilot, Pathfinder, CX-9, and many other SUV’s . Possibly people that have burned by Land Rover’s poor reliability.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Land Rover owners will stick with multiple vehicles with poor reliability before they’ll move down to a lower status vehicle. After all, they lease them, not buy them, and upgrade to a new model under warranty before the reliability gets really dodgy.

  • avatar
    mikeg216

    But it’s still a net positive as they will stay in the family instead of losing them

  • avatar

    It’s strange to see a CEO talk about a new vehicle with caution and not touting that it’s going to be the BEST EVER, THEY WILL GET TIRED OF WINNING IT WILL BE SO GREAT.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    …and it’s super-tall, all the better to achieve Subaru’s Shakesperian-in-magnitude quest of clogging the left lane on EVERY highway in the Denver metropolitan area.

    Left lane banditry: it’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.

    And just imagine how many “I ran this marathon or that marathon” stickers you can put on that tailgate.

    • 0 avatar
      Halftruth

      Priuii are the biggest offender here on the East Coast (that I have seen). I actually read it here first and then started to see it. I could not believe it.

      -Left lane, check
      -10 under the limit, check
      -Oblivious to beams and horns, check

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    The all new 2018 Subaru Superfluous.

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    I’m not so sure it will cannibalize internal sales so much as it will help them achieve higher retention of current customers.

    Or, perhaps people like me:

    – Needed occasional seating for 7, towing
    – wanted certain safety features (like placement and number of airbags) and a heated steering wheel

    The Tribeca I looked at had almost all of this, and offered a bunch of internal storage things like nets and crates and all weather mats thrown in by the dealer for a pretty good value price. But it was just at the limit of what I wanted to tow, and the deal breaker was that its third row was for pre-school children only. The whole thing just felt cramped.

    If they had a 7 seater in this size range at the time, I would have looked at THAT instead. I can’t tell you how positive the word of mouth about the local specific Subaru dealer was when I asked Subaru owners. I was ready to own a Subaru. But they just didn’t have what I was looking for.

    So, sure, some will upgrade in size from the Outback. But it’s possible that they would have left the brand without this vehicle, as they likely have in the past. So, I’m not sure that’s ‘cannibalizing’ sales so much as retaining current customers whose vehicle requirements have changed.

    Though, I am pretty sure it WILL get conquest sales from the vehicles mentioned, among others.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I think this is it. Retention of families that outgrow Outbacks or people that like the form factor and all that Subaru is about, but find the Outback simply too small for their needs.

      My wife adores the Outback, but we will need something that can fit the two of us, two larger dogs, as well as a child (then two, then…) and all of our luggage. Frankly I was hoping for more of a minivan Subaru to get another entrant in the AWD van class with a bit of clearance.

      • 0 avatar
        newenthusiast

        A Subaru minivan would probably intrigue buyers of the defunct Mazda 5.

        And would potentially strike fear into the hearts of Kia and Nissan.

        I’m not sure it would challenge the FCA/Honda/Toyota hierarchy,though. Not without a significant expansion of production capabilities and continued patience to play the long game.

        But man, a van is RIGHT in Subaru’s wheelhouse.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Yeah I figured Subaru buyers skew towards pragmatists (or atleast making the IMPRESSION to others of being that way), and they’ve historically not been put off by what’s perceived as “dorky” or “ugly” so less affected by the minivan stigma I would think.

          Anything AWD is perceived as safe and the way to go now.

          An AWD van with some body cladding that emphasizes you doing outdoor stuff with your family (more so than AWD Sienna which is almost impossible to distinguish from a FWD variant)? Seems like a knockout for Subaru.

          The question would be retaining decent secure handling with what would inevitably be a very high center of gravity vehicle.

          • 0 avatar
            Timothy Cain

            Pragmatists.

            Or, for those who can’t pull off the image genuinely …. wannabe pragmatists.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Our visit to the Subaru dealership on the more afluent north side of town was one of the best I’ve had, frankly. Very knowledgeable and friendly sales guy that did not at ALL come across as pushy. They encourage people to bring dogs into the dealership, which seems silly but talk about knowing your base.

            The pitch from our sales guy was pretty interesting too: talking to a doctor and engineer, he shared the fact that Subaru has more buyers in some sort of high income bracket than any other mainstream brand, blah blah doing some ego stroking on that whole pragmatist angle “I’m doing well but I like to buy utilitarian things.”

            We REALLY liked how the ’15+ version on the Outback made the interior genuinely much more expensive feeling than a mid-upper $20k car has any right to. Perhaps the only modern car I’ve been in where the cloth is really nice to touch and not some scratchy crap. It was almost like being transported back to the era of Japanese velour of yore.

          • 0 avatar
            vtnoah

            How awesome would a minivan with a little higher ride height, awd, and some butch tires be? Most awesome. I’d buy it. Bring a modern Mitsubishi Delica to the mix but made by Subaru. Damn, we should be product planners.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Toyota Sienna AWD.

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            Considering the average Subaru driver tends to hold up the average Power Wagon driver down twisty roads, I suspect they’ll be perfectly OK as far as COG goes…..

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            HDC the Sienna is in a class by itself (not counting the much more commercial-looking and more expensive Sprinter 4×4). The Sienna AWD unfortunately lost the ace up its sleeve in its current incarnation in that it went from its previous gen’s 7.4 inches of clearance (very decent) to its current belly-scraping state where the AWD is no taller than the FWD version. And honestly that old van’s clearance really made a difference. Toyota’s latest implementation of AWD has also further lost some of its teeth, even more “reactive” than before in the interests of MPG. The old Previa had the most robust and effective implementation of AWD (true mechanical 50/50 with open center diff).

            I could see a Subaru version touting higher clearance, a more capable AWD system, and some kind of more obvious styling cues (khaki/brown/green paint with plastic cladding, big foglights) to emphasize the “tough/adventure” angle.

            Like this:
            https://goo.gl/images/EC6c2n

          • 0 avatar
            newenthusiast

            “An AWD van with some body cladding that emphasizes you doing outdoor stuff with your family (more so than AWD Sienna which is almost impossible to distinguish from a FWD variant)? Seems like a knockout for Subaru.”

            I don’t know about the cladding, but now that they have this Ascent, which is as long as a van, what you describe with Subaru’s more robust AWD and perhaps a little higher off the ground would probably find a steady, profitable pocket of people who want it. I’d love to see what it would look like.

            Essentially, if it can go everywhere an Outback or this thing can, but with more space you can actually use, who the heck WOULDN’T want one?

        • 0 avatar
          Dave M.

          I wholeheartedly concur. And I think they’d mop up as well with a light pickup based on the Forrester chassis. Just not Baja ugly.

  • avatar
    djsyndrome

    We’ve done the natural Subaru progression as the kids have grown (Impreza hatch > Forester > Outback), and while the kids won’t get much taller and will (hopefully) eventually go away, sometimes a little more room than what the Outback provides is nice. Also, when when the in-laws or friends come to visit it’d be nice to not have to take two cars.

    We were thinking of moving to Pilot next year, but happy to hold off and see how this drives.

  • avatar
    slap

    The only way the Ascent will hurt Forrester sales is if the Ascent hurts the Outback sales enough, transaction prices on the Outback may drop. And that may be enough to get some people into an Outback instead of a Forrester.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    If you went into the dealer for a Forester but left with this behemoth 3-row, I’m not sure you knew what you were doing when you set off from your house.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      Well, the buyer will be a forty-plus’ish, balding and shy man with three teen-aged kids and the salesperson will be a Scarlett Johansson look-alike wearing a very short and tight skirt with a tight, low neckline sweater.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Dad gets to feel young and attractive again, three teens don’t have to squeeze abreast in the backseat of a compact CUV, and pseudo-Scarlett gets a better paycheck. Everyone wins. Well, except Dad really, who knows deep down he was getting played and now has to write a bigger monthly check than he planned.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Pricing will be interesting considering what we heard yesterday about VW’s shockingly thoughtful decision to bump warranty coverage for their Atlas and Tiguan.

    Is the smart money on a possibly pricier but likely more reliable Ascent, or a cheaper VW with a longer warranty?

    I wasn’t a fan of the Atlas when I crawled around in it at the car show, but that’s when I thought it was going to be a 50k SUV, not one starting at 32k. Even one that’s decently equipped around 40k undercuts minivans.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      It doesn’t undercut minivans. The Odyssey is cheaper base price than the Pilot. Same story for the Sienna vs the Highlander.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      I’m a Subaru fan and owner, bit I like the lower-key design of the Atlas as well. If the quality and reliability can match the Subaru, VW’s warranty may make all the difference in the world for some.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I wonder if they have plans to use this platform for a Ridgeline like pick up. Sales of the old Baja were fairly ok and there might be a niche market for something larger amongst Subaru aficionados.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Boxer motors bring real compromises, but they do lower the COG for a given ground clearance. With all 7 seats filled, they all wallow. I’m not sure the same motor pulling an old Forester XT will impress in this, but if the customers want ecoboost it’s just down the road.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The motor in this will be a bored-out version of the FXT motor, 2.4L rather than 2.0L.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam Hall

        It’ll be interesting to see the reviewers’ reactions to the motor. Small-ish turbos in heavy cars haven’t been terribly successful in the past. They tend to be the worst of both worlds, with worse gas mileage than a six and peakier delivery.

        I want to say it’ll work because Subaru, but this is a category very much owned by others, while the Impreza, Forester and Outback are niches that Subaru has mostly to itself. Customers will cross-shop the Ascent against the Highlander, Pilot, Edge and Explorer, all of which have large-displacement engines. Besides meeting or beating those in features, the Ascent’s powertrain will have to feel comparable. I bet it won’t. That might be why Yoshinaga is tamping down expectations.

        They really should have come out with a new H6 for the Ascent, but this is where Subaru is a latter-day AMC, barely capitalized enough to introduce new models.

        • 0 avatar
          Dave M.

          Maybe they’ll lean on their cousin Toyota for the V-6. I was helping a friend shop for a Highlander yesterday and was shocked with the mpg difference between the I-4 and V-6.

  • avatar
    Matzel

    How are the head gaskets going to be on the big three row CUV? I drive an Outback that’s already on it’s third head gasket at 140,000km. It’ll be my one and only Subaru – that’s for damn sure…


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • raaizin: Jack, really must you call the employee stupid. Doesnt say alot for you. Why dont you ask Amazon to see if...
  • Tim Healey: I had no chance to fill it and measure. If I do have a chance to observe fuel economy, it will be in the...
  • azmtbkr81: Unfortunately all of the major carriers have arbitrary tiers for shipping boxes, I found this out the hard...
  • Lou_BC: @SCE to AUX – one can argue that in the USA and Canada, we have not hit a fuel price threshold that...
  • blppt: “The smallest hill causes the 3.5 NA V6 to downshift where the 2.0 just pulls right up it. I could care...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributors

  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States