The Subaru Ascent Will Cannibalize Outback And Forester; Even Subaru Thinks So

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
the subaru ascent will cannibalize outback and forester even subaru thinks so

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.

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.

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  • Matzel Matzel on Apr 23, 2017

    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...

  • Brian Rener Brian Rener on Mar 24, 2018

    I am thinking in particular the 3.6R Outbacks may loose more sales - from what I can tell there is a 10% difference to get you into a Ascent. We were considering a 3.6R Outback and will now wait to see.

  • MaintenanceCosts We hear endlessly from the usual suspects about the scenarios where EVs don't work as well as gas cars. We never hear the opposite side of the coin. From an EV owner (since 2019) who has a second EV reserved, here are a few points the "I road trip 1000 miles every day" crowd won't tell you about:[list][*]When you have a convenient charging situation, EV fueling is more convenient than a gas car. There is no stopping at gas stations and you start every day with a full tank.[/*][*]Where there are no-idling rules (school pickup/dropoff, lines for ferries or services, city loading, whatever else) you can keep warm or cool to your heart's content in your EV.[/*][*]In the cold, EVs will give you heat from the second you turn them on.[/*][*]EVs don't care one bit if you use them for tons of very short trips. Their mechanicals don't need to boil off condensation. (Just tonight, I used my EV to drive six blocks, because it was 31 degrees and raining, and walking would have been unpleasant.)[/*][*]EVs don't stink and don't make you breathe carcinogens on cold start.[/*][*]EV maintenance is much less frequent and much cheaper, eliminating almost all items having to do with engine, transmission, or brakes in a gas car. In most EVs the maintenance schedule consists of battery coolant changes and tire maintenance.[/*][*]You can accelerate fast in EVs without noisily attracting the attention of the cops and every passerby on the street.[/*][/list]
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  • AKHusky The expense argument is nonsense. My mach e was $42k after tax credit. Basically the same as similarly equipped edge. And it completely ignores that the best selling vehicles are Rams, F150s, and Silverados, all more expensive that a bolt, MAch e or ID4. As an owner, I'd say they are still in second car territory for most places in the country.
  • Johnster I live in a red state and I see quite a few EVs being purchased by conservative, upper-class Republicans (many of them Trump-supporters). I suspect that it is a way for them to flaunt their wealth and that, over time, the preference for EVs will trickle down to less well-off Republicans.
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