Subaru Ascent Production Begins in Spring 2018: Work Underway To Squeeze SUV Into Indiana Facility
Subaru reported in September 2017 the brand’s 70th consecutive month of year-over-year growth. The growth rate is not modest. Five years ago, Subaru had never reported more than 336,000 U.S. sales in a calendar year. Yet with one-fourth of 2017 remaining, Subaru has already reported 478,848 U.S. sales in 2017 and is on track to sell more than 650,000 vehicles by the end of the year.
Subaru is not, however, without challenges. The rate of sales improvement has not been matched by a commensurate improvement in the dealer network’s ability to service vehicles, for example.
Another issue? Subaru needs to create space for production of its next new vehicle, the three-row Ascent SUV, in Lafayette, Indiana. Subaru already builds its best seller, the Outback, in Indiana, and with the latest generation of the Impreza, the brand’s compact car joined the midsize Legacy as an Indiana-built model, as well.
For the Ascent, which Subaru confirmed is set to begin rolling out of the Indiana plant in the second-quarter of 2018, Subaru has received the necessary permits to increase production by 66 percent compared with the original joint Toyota/Subaru facility.
Up until May of last year, the Lafayette plant was also responsible for some Toyota Camry production. But the part of the plant that used to be devoted to Toyota now assembles Imprezas, sales of which rose 43 percent through the first three-quarters of 2017. According to Automotive News, Subaru’s U.S. boss Tom Easterday says the switch from Camry to Impreza has “gone really well,” and “was converted quickly.”
Subaru now must alter the plant again to build the company’s biggest vehicle to date. Construction to enlarge the plant on behalf of the Ascent will be completed by the end of 2017. Subaru must also transform the more obvious means by which the Lafayette plant operates: larger carriers and more ergonomic work stations, for instance. Subaru will shift all Outback from the Indiana plant’s A-line to the Impreza/Outback B-line, leaving the Legacy alone with the Ascent on the less voluminous A-line.
With such significant expansion, Automotive News reports that Subaru requires new EPA permits. The Lafayette plant was originally built to handle 310,000 vehicles, though permits allowed Subaru to build 450,000 vehicles in 2016. That allowance rises to 514,000 total vehicles with the Ascent factored in.
Subaru’s expectations for the Ascent are nevertheless modest. Global CEO Yasuyuki Yoshinaga believes the Ascent will more likely cause current Subaru owners to migrate into the larger vehicle — rather than leave the brand — but won’t likely steal sales from three-row competitors.
Past experience surely means nothing. The last three-row vehicle built by Subaru in Indiana was the Tribeca, a massive failure that accomplished little good for the brand. Since the Tribeca’s departure, Subaru sales in the United States have grown by more than 50 percent.
Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.
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