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Forester to boost Subaru sales

Black Forester cake: With the fifth-generation Forester now on sale in the booming mid-size SUV segment, Subaru expects its 2018 year-end sales total to swell to more than last year’s 52,511 tally.

Subaru targets another record annual sales haul as new-generation Forester arrives

11 Sep 2018

SUBARU Australia is relying on its new-generation Forester to achieve another all-time record annual sales result, despite a softening market in which the Japanese brand has fallen 3.7 per cent so far this year after suffering a 16 per cent hit in August. 
In an interview with GoAuto at the launch of the new Forester in Victoria last week, Subaru Australia managing director Colin Christie said the fifth generation of the mid-size SUV, which in earlier iterations was a leader in its class, had the potential to return to a top-five position, up from ninth. 
However, he hastened to add that the company was focused more on the individual targets set for each of its model lines rather than their position relative to the rest of the market.  
Asked whether Subaru could top last year’s overall result of 52,511 sales – a feat that would mark its 19th annual sales record in the past 21 years, and its seventh in a row – Mr Christie said: “I think so. The biggest question is what the market is going to do, to be honest.
“The market in the last few months has been extremely challenging. We’re not going to push the boundaries; we want to focus on delivering Forester into the market and making sure all our other models are doing the job.
“Ultimately, if the market’s not there, we’ll be focused on doing what we need to do for ourselves, so we don’t necessarily spend a lot of time looking at the market and that sort of stuff. We know what the car is capable of and we manage to that.”
Intense competition in the booming segment and the model changeover has seen Forester’s sales volume drop significantly this year, falling 29.5 per cent to 6134 units to the end of August.
This places it ninth place in the sub-$60,000 mid-size SUV segment behind the dominant Mazda CX-5 (18,679), Toyota RAV4 (15,307), Nissan X-Trail (14,037), Hyundai Tucson (13,768) and others.
But Mr Christie remains optimistic that Forester will quickly recover. 
“Historically … we were market leader for a while. I think it’s got the capability to be there, I think the car is definitely strong enough, the technology it’s got in there is class-leading and it’s got so many different elements,” he said.
“So could it be? Yes. Are we going to specifically target it? No, it’s not something that we set ourselves as targets.
“Obviously we’ve got volume targets we want to achieve, but we don’t want to say, ‘We want to be number one or number five in this segment’. Ultimately it’s about the product that is right for the customer and meeting their needs.”
Last year, Forester recorded 12,474 sales, placing seventh in the segment and less than 1000 units behind the sixth-placed Kia Sportage. This was still enough to be Subaru’s top seller, a crown Mr Christie expects the new model to retain when it starts to hit its straps next year.
“There’s no doubt about it, I think Forester will absolutely be (Subaru’s best-selling model),” he said.
“It’s kind of a nice environment to be in though, because historically we’ve only really ever had one model leading. The last few years we’ve been lucky to have Impreza, Forester, XV and Outback all kind of competing for that same mantle.
“But I do believe that the segment that it (Forester) is going into, the product that it is, I do believe the Forester will become our number-one seller.”
Subaru’s second-generation XV small SUV – which launched locally in June last year – currently accounts for the lion’s share of brand sales with 9279 units to the end of August, a significant 65.7 per cent lift on the same period last year.
The Outback large SUV, meanwhile, is still selling well with 7623 sales this year (-4.3 per cent) on the back of an update introduced in February, before the model – as well as the mechanically related Liberty mid-size sedan – enters a new generation in the not-too-distant future.
As Australian buyers flock to SUVs, Subaru’s Impreza small car has taken a 17.8 per cent hit this year (with 6789 sales), but it remains the third-best-selling model for the brand – and, according to Mr Christie, is still a crucial part of the line-up. 
“We launched (the new) Impreza 18 months ago … that was a massive opportunity for us because we’ve never been able to really attract that younger audience or had the car to do it, and this Impreza it ticked all the boxes that people were looking for,” he said.
“So passenger car for us has actually grown significantly on the back of that. For the first 12 months almost, we tripled the volume of Impreza compared to the historic run rate.
“I think there is no doubt the SUV segment is growing and continues to grow at the expense of passenger cars and having an Outback that’s just been facelifted … an SUV (XV) that’s just turned 12 months old now and then a brand-new Forester, we’re in pretty good shape in terms of the SUV segment as well.”
As for Subaru’s other passenger car, Liberty, which is currently down 22.6 per cent to 1142 sales this year, Mr Christie conceded the model was competing in a struggling segment, but the company remains committed to the nameplate.
On a more positive note, Subaru’s sportscar portfolio remains healthy, according to Mr Christie, with the BRZ up 7.2 per cent to 518 units this year, compared with its Toyota 86 mechanical twin that is down a substantial 43.9 per cent to 688 units. 
“BRZ has been an incredibly good car for us,” he said. “We’re still selling exceptionally good volumes of the car; we actually couldn’t be happier with BRZ at the moment.
“Historically we’ve been selling one in eight, to one in 10, was our production allocation versus the 86, we’re now selling one to two, one to three.
“BRZ just seems to keep going, and the tweaks Japan keep making to it – the facelift and bringing the right levels of connectivity into the car – just keep it going and ultimately it’s just a fun car to have.”
As for Subaru’s sporty WRX and related Levorg wagon, sales are down 7.3 and 25.8 per cent respectively to 1515 and 516 units each YTD.
Overall, Subaru’s SUV sales are currently outpacing passenger cars more than two to one (23,036 versus 10,480), a split Mr Christie expects to be maintained as high-riders continue as Australia’s preferred vehicle. 
“I think the SUV market is the growth opportunity for us,” he said. “I think to be honest, where we want to be is – hence the new branding – is we still think there’s a massive opportunity to engage with more people in the products we already have.
“So would I see that split being maintained? Yeah, probably, but that doesn’t mean it’s at the expense of one. I still think there is growth in Impreza, and I think there’s future growth in our performance cars, but ultimately I think SUV is where we’ll see the most growth.
“The opportunity for us is a lot around young families. I mean, our existing customer base is awesome and very loyal and I think this car (Forester) ticks all the boxes and even more, but we think we actually have a product now that will allow us to talk to that younger family, which has been a bit challenging in the past because of space and dynamics etc.
“We don’t specifically set a target that we want this penetration or that penetration, we want to grow our brand and our brand perception, and ultimately, whatever models are delivering that, we’d expect to see growth from.”

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