NY Auto Show: Subaru Readies Another Outback

Subaru of America is showing the new Legacy wagon and sedan and Outback that will go on sale in a few months as a 2010 model.

The Japanese brand, part of Fuji Heavy Industries, is enjoying a better run in this Recession than most brands. Subaru sales during the quarter rose 1.6 percent to 41,532 vehicles compared with the same three months of 2008. Total U.S. light vehicle sales fell 38.4 percent in the same time-frame.

Both vehicles are on a longer wheel base and have 4 inches more rear legroom than the current models. The new Outback loses its overhang and will be 1.4 inches shorter.

The company has done a nice job here of evolving the Legacy/Outback into a respectably modern shape and profile without making it look like something it isn’t, or that the brand can’t support.

Subaru has always had enormous loyalty among owners. It’s strongest markets have long been Great Lakes, New England and Pacific Northwest where the company’s bullet-proof all-wheel-drive is popular. And while the company’s vehicles don’t score especially well on J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (quality measured in first 90 days of ownership), it scores extremely well on the firm’s Vehicle Dependability Study, which measures reliability over three years.

And despite the company’s drift on its marketing message in the last five years and a change of ad agency, the company’s image stays pretty constant with owners and prospects perennially viewing Subaru as a reliable, tough, versatile all-wheel-drive grocery hauler that will never get stuck in the snow or on an ice patch.

A few of its models have performance engines that make for sprite rides, and that has endeared Subaru to younger folks and those with a little BMW lust in their shifting hand.

In a Recession, it is not surprising, as a matter of fact, to see a brand with such historic clarity do so well. When times get tough, consumers stay with what’s reliable and tested.

Subaru is also one of those mass brands with a premium image among higher educated and higher income consumers enabling it, I believe, to enjoy a bit of trade-down business. Think of the way people who can afford to spend a lot on clothes will still buy and wear shirts and trousers from L.L. Beane. People hurting from a Recession can easily go from a $35k-$45K vehicle to a $25K Outback without losing face.

Not surprisingly, Subaru has had a long association with L.L. Beane, making it, in my mind, kind of the L.L. Beane of the auto industry. Solid for all times.