By on May 22, 2018

Ford’s announcement that it will eventually eliminate every sedan from its domestic lineup has forced the automotive media to consider which automaker will be next to cart theirs off to the guillotine. Due to the growing popularity of crossovers and their inherent profitability, it’s probably just a matter of time until another manufacturer tosses all of its sedans in a burlap sack and drowns them in the proverbial river.

General Motors seems ready to abandon the Chevrolet Impala and Sonic, and Cadillac’s ATS, CTS, and XTS will soon be replaced by two unnamed sedans. Buick’s Lacrosse also looks to be a likely candidate for execution, and rumors exist that Caddy’s CT6 may also be destined for death. However, while rumors swell that American automakers are just years away from from killing the four-door car, Subaru says sedans remain totally relevant.

As a smaller but rapidly growing manufacturer (domestic sales have tripled since 2010), it’s dangerous for the brand to become too reliant on a single segment. If the market suddenly shifts, Subaru knows it’s better not to get caught with its pants down. In fact, it’s almost as if the company’s national manager of product communications, Dominick Infante, is counting on that. 

“Gas prices are starting to come up now,” he told Motor Trend in a recent interview. “So a good hedge for better economy is having a sedan.”

That’s not to suggest Subaru hasn’t tried to alter its lineup to cash in on the current market trends. Its Forester and Outback have become more SUV-like with every generation. The Crosstrek, which was introduced in 2012, quickly matched the Impreza in terms of sales and currently exists as the brand’s best-selling model in North America. Subaru is also launching the three-row Ascent this year to compete with the rest of the world’s midsize crossovers.

Meanwhile, the company’s car sales have declined. In the first four months of 2018, sales of the Impreza fell 16.3 percent and the Legacy dropped 13.9 percent. WRX and STI sales have also declined a bit. Still, it’s not as dire as it sounds. The revamped Impreza actually saw a significant increase in sales last year, and looks to be on schedule to surpass every other year that wasn’t 2017.

“So we still make the Impreza and the Impreza hatchback,” Infante said. “They do get better gas mileage than, say, a comparable CUV like the Crosstrek, so we do sell those so if the market does change that’ll help sales of sedans.”

Subaru says entry level cars like the Impreza are also important in getting people set up with their first car, while sporting models like the BRZ or WRX help to attract younger buyers cut from a different cloth. However, it intends to keep both via its enviable level of brand loyalty and fill any gaps with new models like the Ascent.

“[Customers] stay with the brand except for this one area, when they have children starting to become 8 years old or so,” explained Infante. “[That’s] when they tend to say, ‘OK, my Outback or Forester is too small’ and they want to transport other kids [and] families, so then they leave the brand and they would go to our competitors. So they could buy a Honda Pilot or a Highlander and then come back when their kids are out of high school and buy an Outback.

“It’s kind of funny, they would come back or they would have their second car which would stay being a Subaru but we would lose them in that one area … Basically it’s an open door where the customers are just walking out. Now we’ve got something to fill that in and keep them in a Subaru.”

2019 Subaru Ascent Limited, Image: Subaru of America

[Images: Subaru]

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29 Comments on “Subaru Says Sedans Are Still Working, Doubles As Contingency Plan...”


  • avatar
    Hummer

    Well two things, Subaru has their wagon which actually sells well and I’m sure they make a profit on – seeing as they have cornered that market. And two Subaru doesn’t sell trucks or SUVs, they have nothing to fall back on other than cars and crossovers, if they lose one of those then they’re a one trick pony. Of course they’re not going to cease building 1 of the 2 types of vehicles they make.

    Also I would like to point out that for every year as far back as I can remember gas prices have gone up in May, and every year I hear it’s because refiners are switching to summer blend gasoline. I haven’t heard that once this year, did fed gov drop summer blend requirements or what’s the deal? Still seeing gas at $2.59 a gallon (lets ignore the premium I put into the SS) so yes it’s more expensive but it hasn’t exploded in price like I keep hearing.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “…every year I hear it’s because refiners are switching to summer blend gasoline.”

      And Epi-pens really cost $500 a pop to make.

    • 0 avatar
      scarey

      I always have liked Subarus. they look so practical to me. And it sounds like their sales strategy makes sense- adding a larger model to their lineup. The only thing that I wish they would do is to bring back the Brat, please. I see good things ahead for Subaru.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      Yes, summer blend is still required in markets where the EPA determines that maintaining air quality requires it. I have heard it mentioned as part of the reason gas has jumped up about 25% here in Chicagoland.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    One thing not really mentioned in this article is that Subaru has the only inexpensive AWD compact sedan. That makes the Impreza a lower-risk proposition than many of its competitors, with a more loyal (even if not growing) base of buyers.

    The Impreza owners I know around here wouldn’t switch to another sedan if the Impreza disappeared; they’d go out and get a CUV. Suddenly instead of being chained to Subaru they’d be looking at every manufacturer’s AWD offering.

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    Now if only they’d make another Legacy GT.. It’s SO hard finding a decent competitor.. Was hoping for Fusion ST, but with all the problems with the AWD, and now canceled…. Nope..

    Currently thinking Q50 SS/RS AWD.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    Time to bring back the BRAT before Hyundai beats them to it with the Santa Cruz.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    True story: friend reached out to me for car advice because his wife needed a new ride for a new job. Travel from Chicago to suburbs – they were looking for a brand new AWD sedan or hatchback. They had done some research… “anything other than the Golf R and Audi A3 we should consider?” Why yes… an Impreza would be perfect for you guys. However, they said Subaru is too much of a mom car… so they got a brand new A3. It’s a lovely ride and am excited that they are excited about that car. But I’m also shocked that a potential 18 grand purchase LITERALLY doubled because of image.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      I feel like the new Impreza has been something of a Shiboleth to divide people who base their opinions internet reviews and those who go into a showroom to actually look at the car.

      FWIW, the Premium trim actually feels a bit like a poor-man’s Audi A3 hatch, no power but the drive dynamics are good and it’s quiet and composed.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick_515

        I had the same feeling when I closely inspected my uncle’s new hatch at a family reunion over the summer. Frankly, I found it handsome, and this surprised me, as I had spent time in a friend’s previous gen base one, and never liked it. The interior was also very airy and a nice place to be in, if basic. However I did not attempt to drive it, as they bought it with CVT.. what’s the point.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      It’s not just “image” – an A3 is great to drive, and an Impreza isn’t. Load an Impreza up so it’s equipped like an A3 (leather, nav, sunroof, etc), and you’re pushing thirty grand for a CVT-only model that does 60 in around 10 seconds. You can get into a new A3 for a few grand more, or if you want to roll the dice, you can pick up a CPO one in the low 20s.

      I know which one I’d buy.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick_515

        you are correct Freed, and I did not mean to suggest that they wasted the money. I do think they wanted a “nice” car, but not sure they knew it drove better. It’s the “new” requirement that tipped the scales for my initial comment… I will wager that just like me, you would NEVER pay mid-30ies for a brand new A3 just because you need an AWD sedan. [CPO S4].

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        The A3 might be a better drive but how many non-car people could actually tell the difference on their trip to work stuck in rush hour traffic? The same people find CVT perfect acceptable. If driving experience actually sold cars then Mazda would be in a better position.

        My wife has previously eliminated vehicles completely based on image/brand before learning more about them and going on a test drive. It can also flip the other way because after desiring a Benz she drove one and came away disappointed.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s true – A3 far more elegant and refined car. Impreza is too noisy, sounds like a tractor and cheaply made. Not something I would ever consider.

        • 0 avatar
          mshenzi

          Well, I was shopping this segment last year– AWD was desirable and I had some price flexibility. I ended up in a high-zoot Impreza hatch (the Ltd). A3 didn’t make my shopping list because it’s sedan only– I’ve had a hatchback lifestyle for many decades. But I spent enough time configurating to decide that the base level of equipment on the A3 was underwhelming and its base price basically a teaser. The A3 is obviously far more refined than an Impreza, but a well-equipped one is in a far different price category.

          The Impreza came out the door with a few $K off after truly perfunctory haggling, so that $30K number isn’t real.

          The premium car I ended up considering was the ALL4 Mini Clubman: it was better in several ways than the Impreza, but for me not enough so to justify over $10K more for a similar (albeit better quality) level of equipment.

          16 months in, I find the Subaru’s materials quality…fine. I find the ride and handling excellent to live with, thanks to the very good underlying platform. Motor never gets better than meh, but the CVT has been less annoying than I’d feared.

      • 0 avatar
        Pete Zaitcev

        Yeah, “a few grand more”, always this.

  • avatar

    Not every carmaker is as crazy as Ford.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      TBH, I think all of them are thinking the same thing… how to maximize their profit under the EPA classification regs, but only Ford was dumb enough to tip their hat and announce to the world that was what they are thinking.

    • 0 avatar

      It is not Ford crazy – it is Hackett or/and Farley are crazy. Ford’s mistake was to bring guy who have no clue about car business and make him CEO and additionally promote Farley who is certainly got crazy over time.

  • avatar
    vehic1

    It’s fine for Subaru to keep its modest-selling sedans – although the Crosstrek sales alone are the ONLY thing that kept Subaru’s bragging rights for monthly sales increases intact. Subaru has “rapidly” grown – if you drop back to 2012-2015; a heck of a lot less since then – but maybe the Ascent will give them a more significant boost than some of the low-% gains they’ve had in the last couyple of years.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    OK, repeat after me… Crossovers and CUVs Are Cars! Say it again. Yes we dislike them because they aren’t BMW 2002’s for the same reason people that were into cars in the 70s didn’t want a Safari Wagon and my Dad didn’t want a minivan in the 80s…They aren’t cool. But what amounts to a tall wagon that is built on a car platform ain’t a truck.

    I’ve been visiting these hallowed pages for years and all I ever hear is how we need wagons and compact sedans are stupid because “muh brown deeesil wagon”. At the end of the day the extra ride height just isn’t that big of a deal. Yes they have compromised cargo areas due to sloping roofline. Know what, with the exception of maybe the squared off Golf and one or 2 others, so do all the wagons and hatches. The Cruise hatches cargo are is useless, as are many others.

    The Volvo 240 is dead and if you are still driving one I pray for you should you decide to explore the left lane. Get over it.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    And oh yeah, show me a sedan a 6 footer can sit upright in in the back seat. We had a Legacy as a rental this week and my head brushed the headliner though legroom was OK. Build sedans that aren’t glorified coupes and maybe some people will buy. Nobody wants to bang their head every time they load baby in the car seat and then try to get the stroller in that mail slot of a trunk opening. Sedans have just evolved into something that aren’t practical for many people. Blame CAFE maybe, but by in large, as family cars they are seriously compromised. Enter the Crossover

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Geez you make two sedan platform variations which comprise a handful of models, its not controversial.


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