Chart(s) Of The Day: Is Subaru's Sales Streak Losing Steam?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

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…

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Pch101 Pch101 on Nov 07, 2011

    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.

    • See 1 previous
    • Pch101 Pch101 on Nov 07, 2011
      @gottacook 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.
  • Niky Niky on Nov 07, 2011

    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.

    • See 4 previous
    • Niky Niky on Nov 09, 2011

      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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