Subaru is certainly a chameleon in the Australian market. Back in the 1970s, it was notable for quirky yet indestructible vehicles favoured by fashion-insensitive men with a fondness for shorts and long socks with sensible sandals.
Subaru’s staple horizontally opposed engine was considered oddball too although it helped that Porsche was loyal to that configuration too.
The Liberty changed things in 1989, revealing to the world that Subaru could make competitive family passenger cars. Durable too; the Liberty went rallying internationally with its boxer engine and all-wheel-drive. The WRX came along a few years later, winning World Rally Championships and an outrageous number of Australian titles (including last year), becoming a poster car for adolescent rev heads as it throbbed toward immutable icon status.
Subaru’s restless nature then took it into the pioneering soft-road genre with the Outback, a raised tougher-looking Liberty-based wagon which quickly felt the love from sporty families.
Photo: 2017 Subaru Forester
The hardy mid-sized Forester SUV has been a winner from day one too, selling boldly and consistently across several generations.
Locally, the company adopted a controversial no-exceptions all-wheel-drive model line-up. The one message AWD approach pitch worked well. Then the rear-drive BRZ sports car- a sibling product to part-owner Toyota’s 86 – came along. Oh well…
It hasn’t been all guts and glory though. The old SVX sports coupe with its funny windows, and more recently the Tribeca SUV were hardly stunning market conquerors and Subaru’s diesel boxer engine has fallen short of broad acclaim. There was also a period some years ago when Subaru styling made lots of people wince.
This year is happy time at Subaru. The median age of buyers is falling. This is a good thing as older buyers are more prone to not being around to trade-up in the years to come.
Sales are rocking along rather well thanks to several current star performers with prospects looking good thanks to a handful of new models on the launch pad.
Whilst Subaru’s local market share is hovering around a modest 4.5 per cent, sales are up about 10 per cent so far this year and heading for 50,000-plus on the back of the boom in small SUVs and the instant success of the latest Impreza small car. Since its late-2016 introduction, the Impreza – the first model built on the versatile new Subaru Global Platform, has been “selling like crazy” at twice the anticipated rate, though pegged by supply.
Photo: Subaru has enjoyed success in rallying both internationally and in Australia.
Now the second-generation XV small SUV is in showrooms backed by some interesting marketing and sales pitches which it believes will push out stronger messages to more buyers.
Subaru Australia’s freshly minted managing director Colin Christie senses the time is right for his SUV-centric brand to muscle up. Car affordability is the best it has ever been, employment remains strong, interest rates are at record lows and wealth levels are at record highs. And the SUV take-up is now running ahead of passenger-car demand.
The smart-looking second-gen XV bows at a time the market is hungry for more versatile and practical SUVs and simultaneously Subaru is making some interesting moves to boost product appeal beyond attractive pricing and equipment.
“It’s about removing obstacles, making it easy for consumers to choose, buy and own a Subaru, with the purpose of helping Australians do more and get more out of life,” Christie said
The broad target for the re-invented XV is progressive Australian families, but the bullseye target for growth is Millennials up to 34 years old, living in an urban environment. Subaru has tasked its sales people to appeal to these (largely) young professionals whilst still retaining the older owners who make up a healthy slice of sales.
Photo: 2017 Subaru Impreza sedan.
Changes to servicing intervals will reduce ownership costs.
Mobile servicing vehicles in Sydney (two) and Melbourne (one) are potentially convenient to owners, with Subaru adopting a racetrack pit-stop philosophy whereby several technicians will complete the task far swifter than at a normal dealership.
The mobile servicing is a response to research suggesting busy owners are reluctant to drive more than 30-35 minutes to have their cars serviced, leading to many electing to use a closer, independent workshop.
Pop-up stores are in three major shopping centres, with test-drive opportunities part of this programme. Pilot programmes for mobile test drives and out-of-hours interaction initiatives linked to dealerships are also happening, with Facebook an important conduit.
While 99 per cent of cars are sold the traditional way, from dealerships, Christie says this new tech-savvy audience can buy the XV online, similar to Impreza.
Christie quickly concedes that volumes via the internet are not big at present, but adds that the option is there for web-savvy shoppers and that sales have the potential to grow. “It’s important to show we are listening to our young buyers,” he said.
With the XV, Subaru will also replicate an “astonishingly successful” experiment implemented with the Drive My Car vehicle sharing business, where members of the public can rent from a fleet of 101 Imprezas for as low as $199 a week. Subaru has discovered 80 per cent of bookings have been by uber drivers many who saw value in not using their own cars. Subaru reports that 20,000 people have been exposed to a drive of, or ride in, a new Impreza this year. There is no data yet on the conversion rate from exposure to owner, but Subaru is sufficiently heartened to add 105 new XVs to the Drive My Car fleet from September.
Also currently operating until the end of this month is a no-cost warranty extension from the present long-running three years/unlimited to five years/unlimited.
While the Impreza and now the XV will be the foundations for a big year, the brand will get further pick-me-ups in August with the arrival of the updated mid-life Levorg sports wagon and WRX and WRX STi hotties.
Fast forward to January next year and the Liberty and Outback range take turns for their mid-life upgrades.
Beyond that the emphasis shifts to an all-new Forester built on the global platform and scheduled for introduction in the second half of 2018.
By 2020-21, just about the whole Subaru catalogue (except for the BRZ) will be riding on the sophisticated new platform – WRX, STi, Levorg, Liberty and Outback are all in the SGP queue.