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Subaru to come out swinging in 2012

Crossover: Australia will become the first market in the world to launch the new XV, which is more differentiated from its Impreza hatchback origins than the current version.

New models and earthquake recovery set to put Subaru back on track to record sales

25 Oct 2011


SUBARU Australia plans to get back on record sales pace next year after a 2011 from hell when stock shortages forced by Japan’s disastrous earthquake and tsunami crippled what was shaping as the importer’s best year.

The arrival of the new fourth-generation Impreza and the closely related XV compact SUV in the first quarter of 2012 will help put the sales mojo back into the company that has watched its sales slide from 40,025 last year to a predicted 33,500 by December 31 this year – a fall of more than 16 per cent.

Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior told GoAuto in Japan this week that Subaru sales had been running at record volumes and record market share in the first quarter of this year before the earthquake in March pulled the rug from what would have been a record year.

He estimated Subaru Australia would have sold 42,000 cars in 2011, meaning the earthquake and resultant production problems and stock shortages probably cost the company more like 8500 sales, or about 20 per cent.

Mr Senior said that, although Impreza had achieved about the same sales in the first nine months of 2011 as in the same period last year, it would have been well ahead had stock not dried up, even in its run-out year.

“On Impreza, we were running about 1400 per month for the first three months, and that helped us to offset the losses (later in the year),” he said.

“But in the past six months we have only been able to sell about 500-550 Imprezas, so that is where the major impact has come.

 center imageLeft: Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior. Below: New Impreza hatch, BRZ teaser, previous Impreza sedan.

“We have had only one full month of production arrive since March, and then we had one more in September production, so it has been a huge gap.”

Mr Senior said Subaru had only 1500 Imprezas in the pipeline to see its dealers through until the arrival of the new model in late February.

“We will continue to have issues around Impreza monthly volume until we launch the new car,” he said.

Mr Senior said that, even once stock of the new model started to arrive, Subaru would face a cap of about 800 units a month on Impreza deliveries from Japan for months as the new model was rolled out around the world.

“There will be a couple hundred dealer demos and showroom stock in January and February, but it won’t be until March that we see a real improvement,” he said.

“It is not only getting the cars, it is building up the inventory, for all models.”

Mr Senior said that across the range Subaru Australian had been running “about 1000 to 1500 less than ideal”.

“And the model mix hasn’t been the best, either,” he said. “We have struggled for Impreza and Forester X, which is the volume seller of the range.”

Mr Senior said that, despite limits on Impreza deliveries through 2012, he was hoping for 40,000 sales – close to the previous record set in 2010.

“But it (the record) is one of those things that if it happens, it happens,” he said. “I am not going to push in the last couple of days of December just to break the record.

“But the good thing is that we have new product coming that in a way signifies the revival and the bounce-back.

“We have two models (new Impreza and XV) to lead that and we have Liberty and Outback with EyeSight (Subaru’s new pedestrian detection device) on the top-range models which will cause a bit of excitement.

“There are a couple of other things during the year that we will use to generate excitement and showroom traffic and sales.”

However, Mr Senior said that excitement would not necessarily include Subaru’s new BRZ rear-drive sports coupe that would arrive in mid-2012 should Subaru Australia decide to take it.

Developed in conjunction with Toyota, the boxer-engined 2+2 sports machine is set to make its public debut at the Tokyo motor show in late November – about two weeks before Subaru Australia is set to make a call on its place in the Australian range (see separate story).

Mr Senior expects the new XV to deliver a major part of Subaru Australia’s bounce-back, predicting sales of 500 units a month – a 600 per cent increase on the current XV Impreza variant – once it ramps up to full production next year.

Australia will become the first market in the world to launch the new XV, which is based on the Impreza and powered by the same 2.0-litre boxer powertrain.

However, it has been reworked with greater body differentiation as a standalone model to challenge rivals such as the Mitsubishi ASX, Hyundai ix35 and Nissan Dualis.

Combined, the Impreza and XV should achieve 1300 units a month in the first year. On top of that, Subaru will have sales of the WRX and STi that are now also regarded as separate lines, apart from Impreza.

Those performance flagships were updated with a “wide body” makeover in 2010, and will not get a full change for up to three years.

Mr Senior said it had not yet been decided within Subaru whether the next WRX and STi would be based on the new, fourth-generation Impreza platform or something else.

While Subaru Australia is looking forward to resuming normal business, Subaru parent company Fuji Heavy Industries is already making up for lost time at its factories in Japan and the United States.

Company executives told GoAuto at a preview of the Impreza and XV in Japan this week that, despite the huge hole put through Subaru production volumes by the earthquake this year, it hoped to produce slightly more cars and SUVs in its current 2011-12 financial year – which ends on March 31 – than last year when it made 623,000 vehicles.

By 2016, Subaru plans to be producing 900,000 vehicles a year, with expansion coming in plants in both Japan and the US.

Subaru plans to release one full-model update each year in the next five years, while slashing production costs by 20 per cent.

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