If we were to equate the automotive industry with the fashion industry, Subaru would be a lot like Carhartt — not necessarily pretty, but enormously useful, great against the elements, capable, tough, utilitarian, and largely purpose-built. This is great and all for those whose needs match Subaru’s capabilities. However, it does pose some problems when catering to the mass-market.
Subaru has long been a niche brand geared toward outdoor enthusiasts, and has enjoyed considerable success in that area. Its commitment to all-wheel drive, off-road capable vehicles has been a godsend for those who don’t want a large SUV, and it is notably ideal for city-dwelling weekend warriors who like to get out of town at every available opportunity. Catering to this demographic will only get you so far, but Subaru is finding that it has struck a chord with more consumers than ever.
The company has recently hiked its U.S. sales projections to a notably monumental 500,000 units per year. In 2014, it has seen near-industry leading sales growth, and has posted month-over-month gains for 33 months consecutively. This year, Subaru is anticipating that it will sell 500,000 vehicles — 40,000 more than its original projection of 460,000.
What makes this even more impressive is that Subaru is coming off a record year from 2013, and is showing little signs of slowing; Subaru estimates that its sales will exceed last year’s by about 17 percent. Although the formula is largely the same — practical, all-wheel drive cars at an affordable price point — its sales have picked up immensely as the portfolio’s collective fuel economy improves and all-wheel drive vehicles are finding a greater, wider audience.
“The market is telling us that we are delivering products that consumers want at the right prices. When this compelling product is then reinforced by strong retailer representation and backed by a brand that consumers identify with, we can be positive on our future results,” Subaru’s president and chief operating officer Thomas J. Doll said in the company’s statement.
The move to a more mainstream position hasn’t been a completely smooth road, however. In its efforts to make its products more appealing to the everyday shopper, Subaru has run into tensions with its die-hard fans who once praised the cars for its unique character and abilities. There is perhaps no better example of this than the recent rollout of the 2015 WRX, pictured above, and the swell of outrage that accompanied the perceived watering down of the bolder, far more exciting concept that was previewed.
The same approach was applied to the Legacy sedan and the Outback wagon as well; Subaru opted to take a more vanilla approach in order to better court the Camry crowd, rather than maintain its unique and characteristic quirks that made Subaru the outlier that it was. Though it has sent ripples through its fan base, it’s hard to deny that the strategy has been effective in generating sales.
Sales have been greatly helped by the Crosstrek XV, a new Legacy, a new Outback, and the new WRX. More and more, Subaru is becoming more competitive with the likes of the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, and the Impreza is holding its own with the Corolla and Civic, as it is the only compact car available with standard all-wheel drive. Subaru has come a long way, but it’s not done yet.