Back in early October, after Subaru’s 93-month streak of year-over-year sales increases came to an end for a variety of reasons, Subaru of America CEO Thomas J. Doll said the brand was still “on target to achieve our 700,000-vehicle sales goal for 2019, marking 12 consecutive years of sales increases.”
Despite a cooling new vehicle market, Subaru’s meteoric rise in the U.S. and its stable of all-wheel drive vehicles made the sales target appear an achievable goal. Turns out it was.
Subaru just barely cleared the bar, earning it another record.
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.
Approaching my Ascent tester behind a not-so-local dealer, I felt a presence. Like a pre-war bank, this thing was solid, monolithic, immovable, looming over all of humanity and granting entry to only a choice few. Given the profit Subaru’s going to make off these things, it’s not an inaccurate comparison.
The last Subaru I drove was an Impreza. Not a WRX or its hotter sister, but a stock Impreza sedan. You don’t see many of them. Before that, it was a Crosstrek. Or was it a Forester? No matter, really. Before that, it was a friend’s short-lived SVX, some 16 or so years ago.
Compared to those compact rides, the midsize Ascent crossover is like the HMS Dreadnought moored alongside a torpedo boat, and that’s exactly what Americans — or what Subaru thinks Americans — want. Thankfully, having found myself behind the wheel of a great number of crossovers of late, the Ascent at least held some quirks to set itself apart.
Subaru landed on these shores with a raft of cars and totally-not-trucks (thanks, Chicken Tax) that were certainly capable when shown a rough road but were, in a word, quirky. Since then, the Pleiades brand has filtered out some of its weirdness in an attempt to capture more customers but – as we will learn – still marches to the beat of its own drummer … or at least to the beat of a flat-four.
What’s changed since our first drive of the Ascent eight and a half months ago? Anything? Did the big Subie acquit itself well during the Polar Vortex? Does our Associate Editor wear army boots?
As Troubles At Home Hit Subaru's Bottom Line, Americans Do Their Duty and Hand the Brand Another Record
Subaru reported an operating loss in its most recent fiscal quarter, with recalls and regulatory scandals in its home market dragging the company into the red. The company said it lost $22 million in the quarter ending September 30th, a departure from last year’s $816.3 million operating profit. Meanwhile, global volume fell 6 percent.
In the company’s largest market — the United States — it was an entirely different scenario, with American buyers conspiring to give the brand its 83rd consecutive year-over-year sales increase. A record for October, too, but that’s sort of a given. Very nice of those buyers, but the credit really belongs to the Ascent crossover.
Operating in a higher price spectrum and with Subaru’s typically tight grip on the incentive account, there’s no telling what the new Ascent is doing for Subaru’s bottom line. But as Subaru conservatively predicted, the Ascent isn’t generating much in the way of greater sales activity inside Subaru showrooms.
Instead, the Ascent is growing Subaru’s volume by the leanest of margins, in part because it’s by no means a segment leader in sales; partly because nearly all of Subaru’s other models are suffering significant sales slowdowns.
Fortunately for Subaru, the Ascent is now selling at the approximate pace Subaru had forecasted. But it appears to be doing so at the expense of other Subarus.
U.S. auto sales took a roughly 7 percent year-over-year dive in September, pulling the market’s year-to-date sales total further in the red. The industry-wide sales gain seen in the first half of the year is gone.
At Subaru, however, good timing and the continued popularity of a certain model kept the automaker from joining the ranks of its rivals (a group that does not include a beaming Fiat Chrysler). The automaker somehow managed to pull off a win in a dismal month, and it’s still up on a year-to-date basis, despite having so many minuses on its sales ledger.
A recall serious enough to necessitate the replacement of a car is rare, but Subaru should be glad it caught the problem before more faulty vehicles left the factory.
Over the course of eight days in July, 293 Ascents from the 2019 model year made it off the assembly line while potentially missing a full complement of welds — hardly something the automaker can just go back and touch up.
We’ve seen this kind of meteoric rise before, so it’s our duty to tell Subaru to “just say no” to drugs. Let’s not have this end in heartbreak for all the fans.
With that important announcement out of the way, it’s time to toss around some numbers — which, at Subaru of America, are quite positive. Despite an industry that sank over 3 percent overall, and with one less selling day than July 2017, last month was the brand’s best July in history, which followed its best June, and May, and… you get the picture. The first half of 2018 was Subaru’s best sales half to date.
Helping the brand achieve a 6.7 percent year-over-year sales increase was the arrival of Subaru’s largest vehicle to date. Go figure, Americans seem to like it.
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.
The three-row crossover field is a crowded arena. Gearheads like us can rhyme off verbatim the critical differences between models. But the Average Joe or Josephine who’s simply trying to buy a machine that’ll ferry the brood? For many of them, it’s like trying to pick their favorite trumpeter out of a college brass band with 50 players.
Subaru’s killer app is, natch, the standard inclusion of all-wheel drive. Will mountain goat levels of traction, a quirky ad campaign, and 19 cupholders be enough to let it play the loudest in a noisy segment?
Subaru’s new range-topping crossover just dropped its pricing list, adding a new entry in the remarkably tight base MSRP battle waged among three-row Japanese midsizers.
The 2019 Ascent, a seven- or eight-passenger crossover with familiar styling and unsuspectingly large dimensions, doesn’t seem worried by the healthy sales enjoyed by its competitors, and certainly doesn’t feel the need to arrive at dealers this summer with a discount tag hanging from its sleeve.
In fact, its base price tops that of three well-established rivals.
Subaru says it will invest $140 million into its production facility in Lafayette, Indiana, to ensure assembly of the 2019 Ascent goes off without a hitch. The cash will go toward helping the automaker meet the growing demand for SUVs in North America and provide 200 additional jobs for the region.
Subaru of Indiana Automotive (SIA) currently produces the Impreza, Legacy, and Outback. But it’s scheduled to add the Ascent early next year. The investment covers a factory expansion, new equipment, and tooling to support higher production volume.
Subaru went heavy on the family values motif as it rolled out the 2019 Subaru Ascent three-row crossover at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show.
The company used models portraying a happy family to show off the Ascent, only with a twist – this fictional family, called the Barkleys, is of the canine variety. Sure, there were actors portraying a happy human family, too, but Subaru was using only dog puns in its presentation.
Subaru has talked about re-adding a large-ish machine to its lineup for the better part of a year, starting with a concept at this year’s NYIAS and culminating in a Twitter tweet announcing the model’s debut in L.A. on November 28th.
The name “Ascent” is apropos, accurately describing Subaru’s sales fortunes here in America. Having recorded a half-percent increase in year-over-year sales in October, Subaru can lay claim to 71 consecutive months of yearly month-over-month growth.
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