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Subaru fights back

On the march: Subaru hopes newly-released models like the XV crossover will help it return to the 40,000 annual sales mark in 2012.

Subaru looks to record 40,000-plus sales in 2012 with new models, improved supplies

Subaru logo24 Jan 2012

SUBARU Australia plans to return to record sales form in 2012 and match the 40,000 units it delivered two years ago when it surged out of the global financial crisis only to fall heavily over the past 10 months as a consequence of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Although it still led the high-volume compact SUV segment last year with the venerable Forester, Subaru’s market share fell from 3.9 per cent to 3.4 as sales dived 15 per cent overall to just 34,000 – more than 50 per cent of which were from its compact SUVs in Forester and Outback.

In an interview with GoAuto at the launch of the all-new Impreza-based XV crossover in Tasmania this week – a world-first event for the the Fuji Heavy Industries-owned brand and another likely strong-selling SUV – Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior said the company was expecting to be back on record sales pace as vehicle supplies returned to norm and new models arrived.

However, a full quake recovery is not anticipated until 2013.

As well as XV, Subaru’s launch-pad this year includes the new-generation Impreza arriving next month and the rear-drive BRZ sports coupe due midyear – the recently confirmed latter being a halo model that albeit will not provoke a shift in Subaru’s ‘All 4 the Driver’ marketing mantra, despite being the only two-wheel-drive car in the showroom.

 center imageLeft: Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior. Below: The new Impreza hatch and sedan, Forester X, Outback.

Significant updates are also coming later in the year for Liberty and Outback, and a run-out campaign for Forester starts in the third quarter ahead of the fourth-generation model due in 12 months’ time.

Mr Senior said that prior to the Japanese natural disaster Subaru was on track last year to break through the 42,000-sales barrier.

He stopped short this week of predicting an outcome for 2013, but continued growth is clearly the goal to maintain its position among the top 10 car companies in Australia.

“We were on our way to achieving an all-time record for a first quarter but that was before the events on March 11 in Japan,” Mr Senior told GoAuto. “It was one of the most challenging years in our history.

“We were targeting 42,000 and we were well on track in quarter one to smashing that figure, but then obviously the situation in Japan caused us to drop to 34,000, so we didn’t achieve our goal.

“I think realistically it is going to be a big stretch to get back to that in 12 months, so we are looking at back to the (record) 2010 level of 40,000 units, which would probably give us a market share of a bit under four per cent again.”

Mr Senior said the disaster in Japan not only halted supplies of popular models like the Forester X, it delayed the release of the redesigned fourth-generation Impreza small car, which was intended to help deliver more record sales for the marque in 2011.

Now due next month, the new Impreza will be crucial in re-establishing the series as a small-car segment leader alongside the top-selling Mazda3 as well as the popular Volkswagen Golf.

“We would have liked to have launched it in quarter four last year, but it now gives us an opportunity to use the new product to bounce back,” Mr Senior said.

“(And this time) the new Impreza will be much more competitive against the cars we want to compete against in that category, such as the Golf and 3.

“We’ve been a little bit held back in terms of fuel economy – but we’ve ticked that box and fixed that (with the new model) emissions – we’ve ticked that box and fixed that design, soft tactile feel in the interior, dimensions – we’ve ticked off all those, too.

“So we feel that the new Impreza is now really geared up to take on some of the traditional competitors in that small-car category.”

Subaru is also looking at redoubling its efforts in the burgeoning compact SUV/crossover class with the XV, which will compete against models such as the Nissan Dualis, Mitsubishi ASX and Hyundai ix35.

“Just as the Forester and Outback pioneered new segments for Subaru in Australia, XV will do the same,” Mr Senior said at this week’s launch.

“It’s engineered to be tough yet economical, sporty yet comfortable, stylish yet fun and it’s got genuine Subaru symmetrical all-wheel-drive credentials, which sets it apart from many ‘faux-wheel-drives’ that offer promise but no punch when it comes to real handling ability and grip.”

Nevertheless, the rear-wheel-drive BRZ coupe is expected to have a halo effect for the entire range when it is released midyear despite the absence of the brand’s trademark AWD.

And Mr Senior said Subaru will not change its ‘All 4 the Driver’ tagline because of the sportscar.

“‘All 4 the Driver’ has always been a play on words – ‘All 4’ does not necessarily have to mean all four wheels, it could mean all ‘for’ the driver, especially as the BRZ is a real driver’s car,” he said.

“It’s going to be quite small volume, but it will still create big excitement for the brand.”

But the Subaru chief is adamant this does not open the door for a return to a front-wheel-drive Impreza or Liberty for the first time since an AWD-only policy was adopted in 1998.

“There is I think a front-wheel-drive Impreza in some other markets but that is absolutely of no interest to us – no way in the world,” he said.

On the subject of the Liberty and its Outback sister car, a midlife facelift is in the pipeline for the third quarter of this year to keep the series fresh against an avalanche of newcomers such as the next-generation Honda Accord, Holden Malibu, Mazda6 and Ford Mondeo.

Meanwhile the Forester – which with 13,142 sales narrowly (by a margin of just 17 units) retained the title of Australia’s most popular compact SUV from a hard-charging Toyota RAV4 – will be subject to a special run-out campaign in preparation for the fully redesigned version due early in 2013.

“We’ve got a few limited-edition offerings with Forester from midyear,” Mr Senior said.

“It’s been number one in the compact SUV segment for four consecutive years, and this is despite the shortages of last year, it’s despite the fact that many of our competitors have got cheaper 2WDs (and) it shows the purity of the offering – having no 2WD, we’re still able to maintain the volume and market leadership.

“Plus, all of the Forester shortages of last year are over now so there’s no problem there.”

The diesel-powered Outback is also due to gain an automatic gearbox option in the form of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) at the start of next year.

“Diesel will be appearing in Outback with CVT this time next year,” Mr Senior said. “We’ve already updated our diesel offerings in December in MY12 models with a diesel with a six per cent improvement in fuel economy.”

While Mr Senior acknowledges the gains made by key rivals such as Volkswagen and Hyundai over the last few years, he warns that outside influences can harm their sales in Australia just as easily as the events in Japan hit Subaru during 2011.

“We run our own race and we don’t get caught up in having to beat someone or achieving the volume to beat someone,” he said.

“We have our own goals in terms of volume and segment market share, but we don’t go out there saying we want to achieve this or that because you end up pulling the wrong levers.

“However, the market is changing, it is becoming more competitive. We’ve seen Volkswagen become more aggressive, we’ve seen the Koreans become more aggressive.

“But we’ve got to recognise that a lot of the aggression from those is based on having a currency that is very much in their favour in terms of a weak Euro or a weak Won, or a strong Australian dollar if you’re buying in local currency.”

Mr Senior said he expected the total new-vehicle market would recover slightly to about the same level as 2010, which would see it pass the million-sales mark as it did last year, but to around 1,035,500 units.

“Last year if we didn’t have the earthquake and tsunami in Japan the Australian market would have probably been at 1,040,000 to 1,050,000 (units),” he said.

“I think we’ll probably be in that area again this year. I’m not sure we’ve seen the full impact of the floods in Thailand just yet, so that may be a little bit of a dampener in the first quarter.”

What's coming from Subaru:

XV – Jan
Impreza IV – Feb
BRZ – Mid year
MY13 Liberty/Outback facelift – Q3
Forester III run-out campaign – Q3
Diesel CVT for Outback – Jan 2013
Forester IV – Jan 2013

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