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Subaru says seven-seat SUV not vital

Mind the gap: Subaru’s all-new Ascent large SUV revealed at the New York auto show in April remains off the agenda for Australia, with no plans at this stage for right-hand-drive production.

Australia sticks to its guns despite large seven-seat SUV AWOL from Subaru line-up

Subaru logo23 Jun 2017

SUBARU Australia managing director Colin Christie is confident the Japanese brand will continue to be a strong player in the burgeoning SUV sector, despite the ongoing lack of a seven-seat large SUV.

Its three-pronged attack captures a robust share of the small SUV class with the XV, the mid-size SUV segment with Forester and the large domain with the Liberty-based Outback.

However, the brand has operated without a dedicated seven-seat large SUV since the US-built Tribeca was discontinued in 2014, while its successor – the Ascent, which was unveiled at the New York motor show in April – will only be built in left-hand drive for the foreseeable future.

This keeps Subaru at odds with rivals like Mazda’s CX-9, Nissan’s Pathfinder, the Holden Captiva and Hyundai Santa Fe, which are a source of valuable incremental sales and ensure that the most important bases in the market are covered.

“Look, I’m not sure if we necessarily need one,” Mr Christie told GoAuto this week. “I think the three products that we’ve got in that space are doing extremely well, and meet the bulk of the needs of the Australian market.”

However, the local Subaru chief is hopeful that parent Subaru Corporation will address the shortfall in the range, if only to help the rest of the line-up.

“Would we like it? If there was a conversation that, at any stage, that suggested that it (Ascent) could be put into a right-hand format, we’d definitely be interested in progressing that discussion,” he said.

“It is less about a volume opportunity for us, but it’s more an opportunity for us filling a gap.

“We have very loyal customers who walk through our product range. That is, probably, a little bit of a gap at the moment, that if they need a seven-seater and we can’t supply one, then we potentially lose them to another competitor.

“As they then downsize again, post that process, then it’s obviously harder for us to get those customers back.”

The Ascent is the third model to be built off the new Subaru Global Platform following the latest Impreza that arrived last year and the redesigned XV that launched in Australia this week, so in theory it could be reconfigured to right-hand-drive.

Indeed, Subaru of America president and chief operating officer Tom Doll told Australian journalists, including GoAuto, last year that “it may get into other markets” depending on demand.

However, with production lines running at capacity out of Japan, it is unlikely that any retooling will take place in the short- to medium term that shifts gear from the likes of Impreza and XV to Ascent.

Subaru Australia had mixed results with the Tribeca, which was launched here in 2006, and Mr Christie noted that it helped build the segment here before the current wave of models from various other brands.

“If you think about the market back then, it was one of the first with that sort of structure,” he said.

“There’s since been a lot of seven-seaters come into the marketplace, in various forms. Obviously, we haven’t had one for a few years now.

“I think that, to be honest, it’s the only gap in our range at the moment from a product point of view.”

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GoAutoNews is Australia’s number one automotive industry journal covering the latest news, future and new model releases, market trends, industry personnel movements, and international events.