Curbside Newsstand/2019 US Auto Sales Coverage, Part 1: Subaru Refuses To Slow Down

Who is the thief in the night that stole a bunch of passenger cars sales from every major automaker in America? Subaru. The company experienced a meteoric rise between 2009 and 2019. Ten years ago the brand was selling less than 300,000 vehicles annually. Last year the brand moved 700,117 units. Subaru of America delivered 11 straight year-over-year increases in a row, and the company has no intention to dial things back.

Subaru CEO Tomomi Nakamura is bullish on his company’s ability to continue its growth well into the 2020s. He envisions the company moving at least 810,000 vehicles by 2026, which would represent a roughly 15 percent increase from 2019. That would give Subaru a 5 percent market share, which is exactly where he wants the company. How can they keep the momentum going? By opening the spigot. Supply limitations have limited the company’s sales growth. According the Nakamura, Subaru had a 24 day supply of vehicles at the start of December. That’s an insanely low figure for the industry, which is currently hovering at around a 75 day supply. Contrast that with FCA, who recently stuffed unwanted cars into dealers’ mouths.

What vehicles continue to light the fires at Subaru? The Crosstrek. Subaru only has about a 12 day supply of the slightly raised Impreza hatchback. Nakamura’s goal is to have a 45 day supply for the entire lineup. With how things are going for the company, that might be a tall order. The Forester continues to sell extremely well. The compact crossover had its best-ever year, with 180,179 examples finding a home in 2019. Subaru also expanded the Ascent’s reach. They managed to sell 81,958 of them last year. And despite a switchover to a redesigned model, an event that typically impacts sales, the Outback etched out a 1 percent increase in year-over-year sales, for a total of 181,178 units sold.

You may be asking yourself exactly how the company plans to keep the good times rolling. Nakamura is convinced Subaru still has growth potential in the Northeast. With Ford and GM pulling out of the passenger car market and the likelihood that others will follow, it’s not a ridiculous thing to believe. He also thinks Subaru can expand in the Sunbelt too. That might be harder to accomplish. And despite these positive sales numbers, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops for Subaru. The brand had several high-profile recalls at the tail end of 2019. They also slipped two spots in Consumer Reports’ annual reliability survey.

But slipping up still leaves the company on the reliable side of the spectrum. And it’s undoubtedly clear to anyone with a decently functioning brain that Subaru has built a strong brand identity. Their increasingly intimate partnership with Toyota should also help them expand their powertrain offerings. Expect more sophisticated hybrid models from Subaru in the near future. Combined with their signature all-wheel drive systems, they could be the no-compromise vehicles that propel the company to a 5 percent market share by 2026. In any event, it seems like rival automakers should keep the lights on when they go to bed at night, because Subaru might just make off with even more of their market share.