While December’s numbers may hold the faint glimmering of hope, it will be difficult to put much of a positive spin on dismal 2009 – unless you’re Subaru of America (SoA), that is. When the year’s final numbers are reported, this week, the U.S. market will show a decline of 24%, to the lowest level of sales since the deep recession of the early 1980s. But despite the doom-and-gloom of the American economy, Subaru somehow pulled off a 14% increase in sales for the year.
The Japanese maker, long little more than a niche marketer, jumped from 19th among all automotive brands operating in the U.S., surging past Volkswagen of America – whose parent will end ’09 as the world’s largest automaker – and coming within a hairsbreadth of Chrysler’s Jeep division.
Subaru was one of only three brands to post a sales gain in the U.S. in 2009 – Korea’s Kia was up 8%, while its sibling, Hyundai, gained 6%. And the Japanese maker did it without relying on the budget-busting cash-back offers that propped up its rivals. While the automaker won’t provide precise details, industry-watchers estimate SoA spent an average of just $1,800 a vehicle in rebates and other givebacks, compared with an industry average of $2,700, and more than $5,000 for some brands, such as General Motors.