By on September 26, 2019

2019 Subaru AScent - Image: Subaru

Subaru didn’t believe the Ascent would add much to the brand’s monthly U.S. sales totals.

A year ago, it looked like Subaru’s forecasts were right on target. Roughly 5,000 U.S. sales per month? Check. Incremental brand-wide growth? Of course. Negligible impact on competitors? Indeed.

But the Ascent’s early capacity for helping Subaru keep its loyal customers loyal has evolved into something quite a bit more useful for the constantly-growing Japanese brand. Ascent volume is rising, rapidly so, and Subaru’s unparalleled streak of year-over-year sales growth – now at 93 consecutive months – now appears in little danger of collapsing.

Subaru U.S. sales chart August 2019 YTD by model - Image: © TTACThat’s not to say the Ascent isn’t still pulling buyers over from the Outback and Forester. It was, after all, always Subaru’s intention that the Ascent do just that. Then CEO Yasuyuki Yoshinaga said in April 2017 that the Ascent wasn’t going to be a conquest vehicle; it would instead be a vehicle that kept growing families from leaving the Subaru brand when they began their hunt for a three-row vehicle.

Excluding the Ascent, Subaru’s U.S. volume so far this year is actually down 4 percent, a loss of nearly 17,000 sales compared with the first two-thirds of 2018. But suggesting that Subaru’s non-Ascent downturn clarifies its cannibalizing nature ignores three factors.

Subaru Ascent u.s. sales chart ttac june 2018-august 2019 - Image: © TTACFirst, Subaru’s supply is weak. “We’ll also be starting September with historically low inventory levels,” says Jeff Walters, Subaru’s senior vice president of sales. Second, the brand’s best-selling Outback is in a generational transition. Third, the Outback and Forester, the two Subarus most likely to lose buyers to their new big brother, both reported sales improvements in 2019’s first eight months. The Ascent seems to be causing no harm to Subaru’s two top sellers.

So, it’s a hit? By Subaru’s standard, the one that counts, yes. Subaru expected the Ascent to find the majority of its buyers in-house; generating around 60,000 annual U.S. sales.

Instead, the Ascent is not raining on the Outback’s parade. Better yet, Subaru will smash through that 60,000-annual sales mark any day now on its way to a year of potentially 80,000 Ascent sales. Subaru is certainly not letting off the Ascent throttle, either. August, with 7,319 sales, was the Ascent’s fourth consecutive month above 7,000 units; its fifth 7K+ month in the last half-year; its sixth since launching. These are welcome achievements for a vehicle that was believed to track around 5,000 sales per month.2019 Subaru AScent Touring interior - Image: SubaruOf course, it could go without saying that the Ascent remains relatively uncommon by the standards of top-tier competitors. The Toyota Highlander attracted nearly as many sales in August, 28,364, as the Ascent has in the last four months combined. Not even factoring in the Police Interceptor, Ford can sell more Explorers in half a year than Subaru can sell Ascents during a 12-month span. In August 2019, American Honda’s best month ever, Pilot volume actually took a 6-percent hit, yet the Pilot still virtually doubled the Ascent’s output. The Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia both put up much bigger numbers, too.

Yet the very fact that we now look at Subaru results to see how they measure up in the mass-market tells you a lot about the brand’s new era. Subaru wants to sell 700,000 vehicles in the United States this year. Subaru only topped the 500,000-unit mark for the first time five years ago, crested the 400K barrier first in 2013, and as recently as 2008 held less than 2-percent market share.

Gone are the quaint days in which Subaru only sold Outbacks to your college professor’s aunt in Vermont. Oh, Subaru still sells her and everyone else in New Hampshire an Outback. But now the brand also sells Crosstreks to your neighbors and Foresters to your family members.

2019 is the year Subaru’s market share climbs beyond 4 percent. And Subaru has the Ascent to thank for pushing the brand over the edge.

[Image: Subaru]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Driving.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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31 Comments on “Subaru Didn’t Plan to Sell Many Ascents, but Subaru’s Expectations Were Far Too Modest...”


  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    My dad was a Town Car man for over 30 years. I suggested he try a 3.6 Outback. He went for it and never looked back.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      I’m surprised they dropped the 3.6, at least half the outbacks I see have the 3.6 sticker on the back.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        That IS weird.

        Their site now shows the 2.4 turbo for the Outback on the “BYO” comparator … but not as *available* on any trim.

        I can see the 2.4T replacing the big NA 3.6 (more HP and more torque and better economy), but not if they don’t let you actually ORDER it.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          Ah, I see! Their UI is bad; if you scroll OVER, there’s the XT trim with the 2.4T.

          That’s what they want 3.6R shoppers to buy (and I would, if I was in that market).

      • 0 avatar
        brettc

        I got behind a 3.6 today on a two lane road. I’m pretty sure they didn’t realize they had a 3.6 in the engine bay. I passed them and lost them (in a C-Max, FFS) once it changed to 4-lane.

        • 0 avatar
          blppt

          Not shocking. How about old people driving 300hp Northstar Cadillacs (back when 300hp still meant something, lol) who fall from 50 to about 25mph going up a slight grade?

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Even if the Northstar hadn’t had head-bolt head-gasket issues there was a carbon build up issue that was a direct result of most of the first owners never getting above 45 mph on their way to Denny’s.

            The Northstar needed an “Italian Tuneup” to stay in fighting shape.

        • 0 avatar
          NormSV650

          Average age of Subaru buyer is close to 60-years old.

        • 0 avatar
          tankinbeans

          A chronic to inability to get up to something resembling cruising speed in less than a country mile plagues more people than just driver of Subarus. The “need” for more low end grunt comes from the notion that many seem to think that pushing the accelerator harder is damaging the vehicle. This has been my experience anyway.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            Yes, when people see the tach needle pass 4k and hear the engine, they think they’re really pushing it, even though redline is 6k. Only someone who learned to drive a manual seems to realize the tach needle moving quickly is normal. Automatics have been around so long that there are plenty of elderly drivers who don’t know what redline is.

  • avatar
    4drSedan

    Looks like the Mitsubishi Outlander my guys totaled in .

  • avatar
    4drSedan

    REDACTED

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    TRWTF is that people still buy the Legacy and Impreza.

    (I actually saw a Legacy 3.6R in the wild, and was DEEPLY confused.

    I mean, sure. I guess. But why?

    I like the engine and high trim well enough in the Outback, but why not just … get an Outback?)

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      Not everyone wants to wobble and perambulate 8.7 inches above the ground?

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The most popular model Outback is $28k base. The most popular Ascent model is $44k base. I suspect people think they’re getting more luxury/exclusivity for the price. My sister won’t give up her 8 year old Range Rover, because her husband wants to replace it with a loaded Grand Cherokee that won’t be in the shop every 6 weeks.

  • avatar
    redapple

    Subaru sells twice as many vehicles as VW (in the usa).

    That fact Shocked me.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      This is what happens when you head for the (premium price) hills. Subaru can still sell plebian spec Impreza, Cross trek’s and Forester’s to normies, but VW is basically in the position that Audi was in after the end of the Audi 100 era.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I’m curious about the interior, other than pictures. My admittedly small sample size of 2 Subaru’s, a BRZ and a WRX left me underwhelmed. Granted, I know they’re catering to different markets, but the interior, especially in the WRX felt cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      For the new Outback/Legacy the higher trim interiors is something that journalists have been raving about.

    • 0 avatar
      JLGOLDEN

      BRZ and WRX are primitive, budget car interiors…extremely basic… compared to the Ascent and the latest Outback. Ascent and Outback are designed with thoughtfully padded touch points, generous arm rests, and these interiors provide satisfying tactile feedback from the switch gear.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I like the Ascent in theory but 3rd row could be bigger for families that actually use the 3rd row. Not nearly as roomy as class leaders in that regard. Also, my God is that design bland. I have only seen a few in the wild and mistake them for last gen Hyundai Santa Fe’s until I’m right on them. Makes you wonder what Subaru could do if they actually sold good looking vehicles. None are ugly, but they are all so forgettable save the BRZ and WRX I suppose.

    • 0 avatar
      Stanley Steamer

      “Understated” is the word you’re looking for.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        No – there are “understated” design that are quite striking (for example, the last gen Audi A7).

        Subaru designs have been the epitome of bland (including interiors) – which is pretty humorous considering their ad campaign from a # of years ago.

        Subie actually has had some pretty good-looking concepts – but unlike Mazda, they have gotten watered down to the point of really not being anywhere the same.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    While I’m still not a fan of boxer engines or the Subaru stereotype, I like the Ascent from a distance. The few I’ve seen on the road look great, and I think Subaru was brilliant to produce it.

    But like most full-size SUVs these days, I question the use of a 4-cylinder engine in it.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    It isn’t the prettiest thing ever, but neither is the Pilot, Atlas, Highlander or Acadia. It’s handsome enough.

    Meanwhile, I drove the Ascent. It’s got plenty of power at all speeds, it’s spacious, it’s comfortable, it’s safe, it’s got plenty of features, it’s well-built, it’s got a capable AWD system, and it will hold its resale value. Sounds like a winner to me.

    Subaru *should* be treating this like a conquest vehicle, because it’s exactly the sort of car that–once you drive it–will make you leave another brand.

  • avatar
    vvk

    The ride and handling of the Ascent I test drove was not quite as bad as Highlander but that’s not saying much. It’s a car for anti-WRX people. They should make an even bigger model and it will sell even better.

  • avatar
    BC

    Test drove it and really liked it. Unfortunately had to steer clear. Significant quality issues across the brand, significant oil burning issues with the boxer engine, unproven CVT in a much heavier vehicle than initial design specs. It could turn out to be a great vehicle but not one I’d buy in the first few model years. I would not be surprised if in a few years it becomes very clear that the engine/platform/cvt are too strained at this size/weight and these things don’t hold up. We went with the Highlander.

    • 0 avatar
      Stanley Steamer

      I got a letter stating that they extended the warranty on the CVT in our 17 Forester to 10 years, and I hear that’s going to be the trend going forward in other models. I guess it means that yes it’s unproven but yes they will fix it.

  • avatar
    JLGOLDEN

    Two weeks ago, I test drove a 2020 Outback XT Onyx and liked it. Then I drove the 2020 Ascent Limited and LOVED it. I unloaded my 2018 Honda Odyssey Touring on the spot. My Honda’s trade-in value was impressive, and I hope the same for the Ascent, at some point.

  • avatar
    DelsFan

    My sister-in-law has a new Highlander, as does her niece. But if a prospective buyer is trying to avoid FWD vehicles like the poor-handling plague that it is, the Subaru lineup offers one of the extremely few (and thankfully not unpleasant) choices remaining. No wonder buyers are flooding to Subaru, 40% torque to the rear wheels under normal driving conditions is a sight better than the zip, zero, zilch, nada, offered in all other Japanese “AWD” SUVs and most small German SUVs!

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