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Subaru Takes Stand in Favour of the Traditional Car

Could rising gasoline prices be a factor in reviving the automobile? By ,

When Ford announced it was eliminating nearly all cars from its North American lineup, one of the main questions that arose was whether other manufacturers would follow suit. Up to now, this has not been the case, even if some individual models are at risk of being abandoned, notably over at GM.  

If anything, most of the public statements on the matter from automakers have been in support of the traditional car, with accompanying acknowledgements that consumers’ habits have significantly changed.

Last month, Volkswagen came out with a public declaration of support for automobiles; this week, Subaru made a similar case.

Subaru’s stance was reported by Motor Trend magazine, which spoke with the company’s national manager of product communications in the U.S., Dominick Infante.

He cited rising gasoline prices throughout North America as a possible factor that could boost sales of car models, generally more fuel-efficient that their SUV equivalents.

“… we still make the Impreza and the Impreza hatchback. They do get better gas mileage than say a comparable CUV like the Crosstrek so we do sell those so if the market does change that’ll help sales of sedans.”

- Dominick Infante

2018 Subaru Legacy
Photo: Subaru
2018 Subaru Legacy

That may be true, but the figures for Subaru cars since the beginning of this year are alarming nonetheless. Between January 1 and the end of April, the Impreza’s sales were down 16.3% in comparison with the same period last year. In the case of the Legacy, it dropped 13.9%. The WRX/STI posted an 8.2% decline, while the BRZ has lost 10.1% in relation to the first four months of 2017.

Meanwhile, on the utility side of the roster, the Crosstrek saw its sales leap by 66.6% over last year. The Forester is seeing a drop in sales, but its numbers should pick up when the next generation of the model hits dealerships later this year.

Subaru is also set to launch the Ascent, a three-row SUV; this model will compete against the likes of the Honda Pilot, the Ford Explorer and the Toyota Highlander for market share.

2018 Subaru WRX
Photo: Subaru
2018 Subaru WRX

Dominick Infante made an interesting point to Motor Trend, saying that the absence of a product like the Ascent was in effect forcing some consumers to leave the brand, as the Subaru lineup was not responding to their specific needs. Such a hole in the automaker’s roster represents “an open door where the customers are just walking out. Now we’ve got something to fill that in and keep them in a Subaru.”

What he did not mention but could have, is that the children of Subaru owners are potential future customers of the brand – and they are more likely to buy cars. In other words, lose the parents to Honda because they need something like a Pilot and Subaru offers no equivalent, and the kids may end up buying a Civic instead of an Impreza when they’re old enough to buy their first new car. By keeping Subaru owners in the fold via a full cross-section of products, the company indirectly benefits its own lineup of cars in the years to come.

The small Japanese carmaker may have joined with German giant VW in giving a hearty pro-car pep talk, but the final arbiter will of course be the consumer. As long as buyers keep lining up to buy utility models, the car will continue to be under threat.

On the other hand, the general consensus in the industry is that the drop in car sales should hit a floor fairly soon, and then sales should stabilize. And if gasoline prices should continue to climb, you can be sure that a good percentage of consumers will start to look with renewed interest at cars, which are generally more affordable and fuel-economical than their SUV/crossovers equivalents (those of similar dimensions and with similar power outputs).

2018 Subaru BRZ
Photo: Subaru
2018 Subaru BRZ