By on January 6, 2009

Finishing 2008 with positive sales growth was basically unheard of this year in the US car market. Titans like Toyota, hot brands like Audi, nobody is safe from the sales downturn that is crunching the biz. Except Subaru. The all-AWD boys managed a narrow 0.3 percent sales bump for 2008, as strong Forester sales (up 62.8 percent in December, 36.4 percent on the year) helped limit December bloodletting to a 7.7 percent downturn. So even though Subaru literally sold only 491 more cars in 2008 than it did in 2007, you can’t help but call it a win. Unsurprisingly, Tribeca and Outback are the big losers, dropping 52.1 and 30.3 percent in December and 34.6 and 22.8 percent on the year. And Subaru’s short-term positioning continues to look good. Though the summer gas shock had consumers scurrying for Fits and Priora, leveling prices and a harsh winter make Subaru’s products look like a smart step for the downsizing SUV-as-luxury crowd. Subaru’s out of the WRC championship, and the Toyobaru coupe has been canceled (it should have been the Tribeca!), but in the US market Subaru looks as good as can be expected.

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26 Comments on “Subaru Wins 2008...”


  • avatar
    ARacer

    My local Ford/Chrysler/Subaru dealer shuttered their Chrysler business and I was surprised to see that they are still selling Subarus. Mystery solved. I’m hoping my 185,000 mile WRX lasts until the 2010 Legacy hits the showroom.

  • avatar
    MakeMyLogoBigger

    Can’t speak to newer model Subarus, but I bought a 1999 Legacy Outback wagon last year with 140K + miles for $4500 cash money and have been thrilled with the vehicle.

    Granted the previous owner was uber-anal about service and kept the car in mint condition, but the ride is solid.

    Glad to see Subaru make the “best” of a fecal market.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Who knew? Make a vehicle more comfortable, less cramped and better riding and people will buy it?

    If only enthusiasts could clue in to this…

    I tried the old Forester. It was neat, but the back seat was uselessly cramped, the high cargo floor limited trunk space and I had more trouble fitting in the driver’s seat than I did the smaller Impreza. Regardless of what most people think, the new one is much better at fitting more people’s needs.

  • avatar
    nudave

    Obviously, there’s a lesson to be learned here. Build simple, robust and reasonably priced vehicles and people will buy them.

    And to think TTAC’s very own Megan Benoit opined as recently as August 2008 that the Forester was “living, breathing proof” that Subaru had “lost its way”.

    It would appear they actually “found their way” instead.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    This may be subjective, but my sense is that Subaru buyers tended to be less influenced by the swings of the marketplace: they were less likely to be buying them with questionable credit, and they can still afford to buy them now.

  • avatar
    Axel

    psarhjinian: Who knew? Make a vehicle more comfortable, less cramped and better riding and people will buy it?

    Pity they haven’t un-cramped the Outback. I’ve rented a 2008, and for its bulk and footprint, it’s quite confining for my 6’2″ 185 lb frame. Knees and elbows have no place to go. It’s not a whole lot better than my wife’s Civic. And the rear seat will ensure no one asks you for a ride ever again.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Product, product, product. Subaru seems to be the last seller of good, honest, durable cars. Slightly quirky engineering only adds to the charm. It’s the modern version of the Volvo 240 and the Dodge Dart (though built well). I really like the Outback, but I have always had a soft spot for wagons. Actually, my dream (as a contrarian) is to get an Outback wagon and plaster the back with conservative bumper stickers.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    You’re all missing the key ingredient:

    Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Strippo:
    Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.

    That’s It! And the factory in the middle of the forest with all the deer and squirrils helping to carry parts. I love those ads. I drive by that factory all the time, there is a little teeny corner of the property with some woods. Otherwise, just a big open field with a big factory dropped down in the middle of it. (On a road that I was told the old-timers still knew as Bataan Memorial Way).

  • avatar
    Strippo

    I do see more than a little Outback-to-Forester cannibalization in those numbers, though. That had to hurt.

  • avatar
    kericf

    The key is that Subaru has very loyal buyers. Also, they tend to be on the intelectual side and more financially responsible than majority of the Big 3 buyers. In a time like now when it’s hard to find people who will qualify for the home run loans, a larger percentage of Subaru buyers can get a loan (or buy outright).

    My parents had an early 80’s used Subaru that lasted for years until it was put out of commission by a teenage driver. They went out and bought their first new car. A 1988 Subaru Justy. The thing was bulletproof. Ever since then they have owned at least one Subaru.

    You don’t have to own the market to make a profit. If you keep customers and just gain a small percent more each year on word of mouth you keep turning a profit while not getting sucked into oversizing yourself the way GM has thinking you need to be HUGE to make even MORE money.

  • avatar
    Axel

    @jpcavanaugh

    You’re talking about the Lafayette plant? I live and work right around the corner, and the setting is not really all that “green,” though we have friends nearby with a nice, wooded, secluded pond (well, ok, an old flooded quarry, but it’s a pond to us).

    Also the lead singer of Blind Melon is buried right by there. They had sort of a “green-ish,” neo-hippy sound. I guess.

  • avatar
    Ryan

    Good for you… Subaru… I fear they maybe one of the last fantastically built, decently priced vehicles.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    No Toybaru? Thank the gods! That thing was just an abomination waiting to happen. Now they can refocus on improing the WRX (which I’ve heard has been vastly improved for ’09).

  • avatar
    Vorenus

    quasimodo, the WRX was definitely approved for ’09, although the ’08 wasn’t as bad as everyone would lead you to believe.

    I live in NJ, and dove to MD to get an ’08 at a bargain (after the ’09s appeared on the lots), and I am pleased with the car. The softer suspension is great at soaking up the damn potholes here in Jersey that rattled my passengers’ teeth in my old ’04 WRX and my RSX-S. The body lean, which was supposedly SO pronounced, isn’t THAT bad, and the 2.5 liter engine mated to the TD04 turbo makes peak torque at 2800 RPM. Around town, it makes my RSX feel like an old-school Festiva. And the surprise is, the WRX is actually just as stable on the highway as my RSX.

  • avatar

    Subaru’s arent built nearly so well as they used to be. The differences between 01 and 05 model years as far as durability goes is horrendous. My parents loved their 01 outback, until it was totaled. The 05 LGT and the 05 outback turbo… neither could hold an alignment and chewed tires up like you wouldnt’ believe. Comparing my well-loved 99 legacy to a new 09 legacy is like comparing a brick sh*thouse to a tin can. Subaru was nearly GM’d to death by GM beancounters. :/

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    Yes, let’s blame all of Subaru’s problems on GM, because they held a minority stake in Fuji Heavy Industries while ignoring the bangup job Toyota has done since taking over GM’s shares in ’05.

    Blame GM for creating the Saabaru if you have to, don’t blame them for Subaru’s apparent QC issues.

  • avatar
    Vorenus

    I wouldn’t blame *anybody* for the Saabaru; I think the Saabaru was great, especially the ’06! There’s nothing better than an un-uglified Subaru.

  • avatar

    I wouldnt mind having one of those saabaru’s really. At least they aren’t a dime-a-dozen.

    I’m not saying all of Subaru’s problems are GM’s fault. GM didn’t force them into anything, of that we can be certain. However, I still find it eerily unsettling how much changed in the build quality and quality of parts in such a short time after GM bought their stake (which was hardly a minority by far, if I remember correctly. If I’m wrong on the 49-ish percent figure, please correct me. Really.).

    As for Toyota’s “bang-up” job.. Meh. I see more of the same “build it cheaper and they will buy it” mentality on the horizon. I fear my beloved Subaru going the way of the Saab.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    I think subaru has done best under the economy because they have stuck to doing what they do best – compact awd vehicles. They know how to do it, and everyone knows it. When you go buy one, you get what you wanted. That is a business strategy that eludes the MBA crowd it seems. MacDonald’s, Southwest Airlines, and many other companies do really well by following this strategy.

  • avatar
    LastResort

    GM owned 20.1% of FHI.

  • avatar
    willamettejd

    Reasons for success:

    (1) Reliability – and making it known. Being neck and neck with Toyota in Consumer Reports’ reliability and “Best Bet” recommendations.

    (2) AWD Standard – who the FRICK wants to pay $5+ grand extra for AWD (like every other car maker charges for an AWD option)? Answer: nobody. Having the best AWD system in the world helps, too.

    (3) Good styling. Old WRX fanboys loved the old WRX/Impreza and hate the new ones. They are the only ones. Other than the Tri-yuk-a, every Subaru looks good, and unique.

    (4) “Unique” factor – Subaru seems to be what Saturn wanted to become but never achieved…reasonably independent, great branding, etc.

    (5) Die Hard fan base/Damn Good cars. (A) Build a good car. (B) People buy it. (C) People love it. (D) People buy another. I’ve never seen a more loyal customer base (except Apple fanboys, maybe)…and it comes from having fun to drive, reliable cars!

    Room for improvement:
    – Gas mileage….will always be difficult with AWD.
    – Tribeca. Yuk, Yuk, Yuk. Cramped, too.
    – Interior room. The newest models (Impreza and Forrester) are getting better. Here’s hoping such efficiency will continue in the upcoming Legacy/Outback.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    Our ’05 Forester is still fault free after four years. And it’s so easy to maintain for the do-it-yourselfer. Oil changes are a snap. I suspect we’ll be keeping it for a very long time.

  • avatar
    Michael Ayoub

    I drove a 2008 STI at the dealership the other day and it was absolutely amazing. Even more amazing was the dealership: very friendly, absolutely zero pressure (I’m not buying a car for at least two months), and we got to meet everyone from the cute woman who accompanied us on the test drive to the managers.

    And we got T-shirts.

  • avatar
    willamettejd

    (6) I will second the dealership experience. Clean. Nice. Relatively Low Pressure. Salespeople who realize the cars can stand on their own without BS. Salespeople who don’t remind you of low-level mobsters.

  • avatar

    please post the source indicating that the Toyobaru has been “cancelled” as reported in this blog.

    On their site, there’s no mention of the vehicle, and the only information I could find on the web was a postponement until 2012 – so I’m wondering where this information came from (so I can cram it down the Toyota fanboys’ throats).

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