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Forester will not be number one

High hopes: Subaru is hoping for a sales increase for its fourth-generation Forester SUV, but is not expecting to return to number one.

Subaru Australia rules out 2WD Forester, sees less growth overall in 2013

3 Dec 2012

UPDATED: 6/12/2012SUBARU Australia has ruled out offering an entry-level two-wheel-drive version of its fourth-generation Forester to chase sales when it arrives in local showrooms from February 1 next year, conceding it will not return to the top of the SUV sales tree.

Forester has fallen from the number-one position it held in 2008 and 2010, placing fourth this year to date in the competitive and crowded compact SUV segment (or ‘mid-size’ as now classified by VFACTS).

At the recent preview of the all-new Forester in Canberra, Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior said he does not expect the popular SUV to regain its title as the top-selling mid-size SUV in Australia.

“I don’t really see a lot of change because everyone ahead of us has a two-wheel drive,” he said. “We can’t compete in that.

“Our job is to try and maintain leadership of the all-wheel-drive segment of that category to try and increase sales. There is no two-wheel drive and no thoughts of 2WD in fact, there is not even a 2WD model available.

“Our future lies in all-wheel drive. Our customers want us to talk about AWD more. That’s where the focus is moving forward.”

2 center imageFrom top: Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior Subaru XV and Impreza.

Subaru has sold 10,605 Foresters to the end of November and is trailing the Nissan X-Trail (15,007 sales), Mazda CX-5 (14,355) and Toyota RAV4 (12,862), a new generation of which will be launched within months.

The segment has also seen new recent releases with Honda’s latest CR-V and the third-generation Mitsubishi Outlander.

Outlander, CR-V and the three models ahead of Forester in sales all offer entry-level 2WD variants, with the CR-V starting at $27,490 and Outlander kicking off from $28,990.

Although pricing for the Forester will not be released until early next year, Subaru will find it difficult to compete with these entry-level prices.

Mr Senior acknowledges the challenge of competing with cheaper 2WD models, but remains upbeat about the prospects of the new Forester.

“We are still the number-one-selling all-wheel-drive medium SUV in Australia and there is still volume in AWD only,” he said. “And with this car and some of the features we are introducing, there is potential to increase that volume.”

While the Subaru chief is looking for improved sales with the new Forester, he told GoAuto at the Sydney motor show in October that the brand as whole in 2013 would not repeat the growth it has achieved this year on the back of the new XV crossover.

Subaru sales are up 16.6 per cent this year on 37,194 units, and if it performs as well in December as it did last month (with 3212 new registrations, 33.6 per cent ahead of November last year), the brand will break its all-time record of 40,025 units achieved in 2010.

“We are not going to be able to continue at that level (next year),” Mr Senior told GoAuto in Sydney, pointing to limited supplies due to restricted production capacity at parent Fuji Heavy Industries’ plant in Japan.

“We could have sold more XVs this year, but production capacity is a problem. We could have got more Imprezas – (but) capacity is a problem. BRZ – write your own number (because) capacity is an issue.

“The factory have said they’re looking at expanding production but, certainly not next year, there’s not going to be those sort of levels of growth.”

Despite supply restrictions, Subaru has enjoyed strong demand from its XV that now regularly outsells the Impreza small car on which it is based.

Since its launch in January this year, the XV has logged 9027 sales to be third behind the Nissan Dualis (11,796) and Hyundai ix35 (10,418) in the small-SUV segment.

In contrast, the regular Impreza – launched in fourth-generation guise in February – has sold just 7770 units year to date (down 28.5 per cent), making it the 10th-highest-selling small car in Australia.

Mr Senior said Subaru Australia had been surprised by the success of the XV.

“XV has been, no two ways about it, significantly stronger than we thought,” he said.

“It makes sense in retrospect. It just hit the market in the sweet spot at the right time when people were thinking more about SUVs.”

Despite the XV outselling its donor car, Mr Senior is not concerned about how it looks on the sales chart.

“I think there’s bound to be a few people who go and look at an Impreza and get attracted by the orange XV. There’s probably a few that go the other way, too,” he said.

“The planning was always around 1200 XVs and Impreza (per month) because they come off the same platform. And we are exceeding that. It’s just the mix is probably a bit different than how we envisaged it.”

At the top end of Subaru’s SUV range, the Tribeca is continuing to sell at around 100 units a month, which Mr Senior said was a pleasing result that he expected would continue for at least the next couple of years.

The current model is four years old, and Mr Senior said in Sydney there was no word from Fuji on whether a redesigned Tribeca would surface.

“We’d love a luxury SUV to continue ... but it’s a discussion that is very much between Subaru of America and Fuji Heavy Industries because at the end of the day the car lives and dies on its success in the US,” he said.

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