Outback head of the pack for rising Subaru NZ

The new Outback is proving to be so popular Subaru cannot keep up with demand.


STOCK limitations seem unlikely to stop Subaru achieving a seventh successive record sales year but might be holding back the star performer.

This suggestion was raised by the New Zealand distributor at this week’s media launch of the new Levorg, a WRX-spun wagon whose potential is also being restricted by the factory’s inability to pump out enough cars.

However, it’s another load-all, the Outback, which was of greater focus when Subaru New Zealand boss Wal Dumper spoke to MotoringNetwork about the current market condition.

A model that entered sale 17 months ago has proven to be a spectacular success for the brand, achieving monthly volumes that easily exceed those forecast at release.

The medium-large wagon has become one of the leading lights in a buoyant new car sales environment in which national interest has particularly zeroed in on sports utilities.

Whereas SUVs on average are accounting for around one in three new vehicle sales at present, the Outback take-up has been much stronger still, with the range attracting 52 percent of all Subaru registrations to date this year.

There is optimism that it will account for at least half the 2700-2800 registrations anticipated for 2016, another healthy step up.

The continuing rise in annual counts – from 1725 cars in 2013, 1823 in 2014 and 2268 last year - means Subaru is almost on the verge of shrugging off its niche status.

Its other crossover and SUV products are also contributing to growth. The oldest model in Subaru’s fleet, the smaller Forester is also enjoying a resurgence, with registrations running above average.

The next strongest performer is the new generation Legacy sedan, which is presently accounting for 10 percent of Subaru’s model line-up share - compared to its overall 5.3 percent share in 2015.

However, the main focus of success has been Outback, though it might have reached the limit of its territorial gain – for now, at least.

Dumper has explained that the car’s run of success was not restricted to New Zealand and, accordingly, Subaru’s production line cannot run fast enough to meet demand.

“We’ve had six record years of sales in a row but (latest) Outback in particular has been very good for us. It has led us to record sales …

“It has helped our dealer team and us as a brand have a really good ride. We don’t see that slowing down.

“(But) Our biggest constraint right now is that the factory cannot make enough cars for us.”

 Market size also comes into it. New Zealand is punching above its weight for Subaru ownership – and central Otago where the Levorg event was staged is on a per head of population basis, has a world-leading Subaru ownership count.

Even so, Subaru NZ is still a tiny distributor at the bottom part of the world, he says, so when much more important markets request more cars they get priority.

As Dumper puts it: “When America want another 10,000 cars a month and I just want a few more …”

But that’s just for the present. Though Subaru NZ has struggled to achieve the full strength of factory allocation it desires this year, the Outback’s impressive impact here has not gone un-noticed by head office.

“Based on Outback’s success we have been promised more allocation for next year … that’s great news, because we just want to sustain our growth and be profitable.”

The timing of Outback’s rise was also perfect insofar that it began ascendance just after Subaru lost the Legacy wagon, which had been the previous staple and was also the donor for the past generations of Outback.

Dumper says when his office first heard the road-bound wagon was going to be dropped, there was disbelief and some gloom. The model had achieved up to 40 percent of SNZ’s annual sales.

“That was really challenging news a couple of years ago … you could imagine … if we were Toyota, it would as if they said ‘you can’t get the Corolla any more’ or, if we were Volkswagen, it would be like saying ‘you can’t get Golf.’

“That was something of a challenge for our business when you are faced with losing 25 percent of our sales," he explained.

“But the Outback has delivered more and beyond what we could have imagined since.”

The car wasted no time in gaining a foothold. Launched in January 2015, it had within six months gathered more sales than the preceding version gained in all of 2014.

He said the model’s sales campaign has proven to be the most successful in his company’s history.

Interestingly, although the medium to large SUV sector is generally diesel-dominated, Subaru has found that the petrol Outback has actually gained in popularity at the 2.0-litre turbodiesel’s expense. Dumper wonders if this is due to what he calls the ‘Volkswagen effect’ – a repercussion of the German brand having been caught cheating on diesel emissions. He says it is a pity the diesel isn’t doing as well as expected, not least because he pushed hard for its introduction here.

With Levorg now launched, Subaru here is looking to launch a wholly new Impreza at the end of the year; followed in due course by a fresh Forester.

This year is also the 50th year of the horizontally-opposed ‘boxer’ engine that has been a brand trademark and 2017 will be the 25th year of the WRX sports sedan.

This will tie-in with the Leadfoot Festival, an annual hillclimb event in early February for performance machinery held on a Coromandel Peninsula property owned by motorsport legend Rod Millen and his wife, Shelly.

“We have some pretty good things happening.”