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Market Insight: New Subaru models to help rebound
New Outback the start of a model overhaul for Subaru, with greater sales to follow
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22 Feb 2021
By NEIL DOWLING
THE year of the pandemic has proven to be an unexpected mix of bad and good news, marked in the automotive industry by strong new and used-car demand but tempered by unexpected side issues.
The market in 2020 was down 13.7 per cent on 2019 but that retraction fails to identify a comparatively low-stress sales environment where many dealers simply couldn’t find stock to satisfy buyer demand.
On the other hand, dealers were frustrated by various production hiccups in the building of cars, delays in shipping and further setbacks caused by the pandemic that slowed the logistics chain right up to the pre-delivery stage.
Subaru, a car-maker with an unusually loyal customer base, also didn’t have things its own way.
Like others, production was hit by COVID-19 and the shockwaves continue with the global shortage of electronic chips for the onboard vehicle computers charged with running the safety and infotainment components.
Speaking to GoAuto, Subaru Australia general manager Blair Read said production lost early in the year because of COVID was largely recovered by the end of 2020 with the brand rebounding to eighth overall in January this year.
He said the depressed sales period was also attributed to a quiet product cycle with only the hybrid Forester and XV the sole new additions during the year and only then launched very early in 2020.
“The great news is that we are heading into an exciting phase for new products that started this week with Outback and will then extend to BRZ later this year and then to the WRX,” he said.
“Then we’ll have a new WRX STI a little further down the track. All these models have a distinct fan base and certainly the performance models have a halo effect, which works fantastically in creating buzz and attracting new buyers to the brand.
“So we’re very excited about what lies ahead over the next couple of years and beyond.”
Production gremlins hit Subaru hard in 2020. Brand sales fell 21.3 per cent compared with 2019 with the slide exacerbated by the run-out – and subsequent lack of stock – with the Outback (replaced by a new model this week) and the demise of the Liberty.
There were falls even in its best-selling model, the Forester (down 18.5 per cent), as COVID and parts issues bit.
The year took its toll on most Subaru models but clarity came by analysing the December 2020 figures, showing Forester was up 27 per cent on the same month in 2019.
In addition, Liberty’s run-out returned to focus in December with a 143.1 per cent rocket in sales compared with December 2019, and healthier XV sales (up 38 per cent December to December) that showed Subaru production getting back on track and buyers ready to purchase.
“We announced Liberty’s farewell last year and that was largely influenced by customer preferences and the well-documented decline in the medium car segment,” Mr Read said.
“We don’t anticipate any other departures from the range. Second-generation BRZ is already creating excitement and we’re more than satisfied with the performance of first generation over time.
“Let’s not forget the huge success we had in initially selling BRZ online only, which then spurred physical sales in dealerships to levels that even took us by surprise, over a longer period than anticipated.”
BRZ sales were up 2 per cent for the year and 47.2 per cent for December with 53 sold that month and 407 for the year. Interestingly, Toyota didn’t sell as many 86s as the BRZ, with 32 units for the month and 387 for the entire year.
The performance WRX model was also up by 26.1 per cent on 2019, with 1399 sales for 2020 though December’s 109 units flagged to 81 in January 2021 as the WRX begins its run-out with a replacement due later this year or early 2022.
Mr Read said Levorg, which slipped to just six sales in January 2021, was “very much a niche product for us.”
“It is in run-out mode currently and we have plans for it to morph into something a little different and perhaps a bit more adrenaline pumping either later this year or early 2022,” he said.
“I know that probably begs more questions than it answers, but let’s just say it’ll be well worth the wait for the fans of turbocharged Subaru wagons.”
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