Subaru’s UK sales fell 68% in 2020, sold below 1k cars – new boss describes performance as ’embarrassing’

Subaru’s UK sales fell 68% in 2020, sold below 1k cars – new boss describes performance as ’embarrassing’

With just 951 cars sold, Subaru’s sales in the UK fell by 68% year-on-year in 2020, a performance its country boss described as ‘ridiculous’ and ’embarrassing’. The brand did just below 3,000 units in 2019. Putting his hands up, Subaru UK managing director John Hurtig said to Autocar: “2020 was a horrible year. What can you say? It’s just an embarrassing number. There’s no more context, to be honest.”

Last year was a bad one for many car companies, no thanks to Covid-19, which is not getting the memo to slow down in 2021. But Subaru’s sales performance was the hardest hit of any, according to the report. In August 2020, the brand’s 69 UK dealers registered just 34 cars between them.

The drop from a cliff is mainly because of few reasons, and one of is pre-registering in 2019. Pre-regs, which is commonly done by car brands in Malaysia as well, can be useful to boost up the current calendar year’s numbers and make you look good, but those cars will eventually have to be sold off, and at a discount too. This hurts next year’s numbers and margins.

Subaru’s UK sales fell 68% in 2020, sold below 1k cars – new boss describes performance as ’embarrassing’

“As a brand, we had a very high registration number in December 2019. In fact, it was actually the best month Subaru UK has had ever. So we went into 2020 with a big backlog,” Hurtig admitted, explaining that the big pre-reg drive was to avoid being handed hefty fleet-average emissions fines when the EU’s new CO2-cutting regulations came into force in January 2020.

Another big factor is Covid-related, and it’s why Subaru UK suffered more than most in a year of lockdowns. “Our target audience is, to be honest, older people, and those are the [biggest] risk group [for the disease]. So they have been very concerned about getting out there and doing business; that has been the feedback we get from customers. This might be one of the reasons it’s hit us more,” Hurtig said.

Subaru, which is run in the UK and Europe by British independent importer International Motors, is looking to rebound from the “disaster” and is committed to the business. An overhaul is needed, and it starts with the dealer network.

Subaru’s UK sales fell 68% in 2020, sold below 1k cars – new boss describes performance as ’embarrassing’

“There’s a need to rebuild the dealer network from the roots. We’ve changed a lot of things within Subaru UK. We also need to change the structure of our dealer network entirely. There’s a lot of things we lacked in the past – from both sides of the business. I’m not just blaming the dealers; 50% [of the blame] goes back to us as an organisation as well,” said Hurtig, who moved from Subaru’s Nordic market to become UK boss last summer.

“We need the right dealers. It comes back to that. We can have the best marketing and brand awareness, but if the dealers aren’t on the same page, it’s useless. So this has to be developed hand-in-hand,” he added.

Perhaps Subaru’s reputation as a rallying brand, which persists to this day, is not in sync with what the brand is today, an SUV brand. The Impreza WRX STi was discontinued in the UK in 2018 and the just-revealed next-gen BRZ is not an option for Europe. Marketing and branding could be a challenge.

Subaru’s UK sales fell 68% in 2020, sold below 1k cars – new boss describes performance as ’embarrassing’

“Subaru UK has made a lot of mistakes in the past, to build Subaru’s brand to be something it isn’t any more. [The Impreza] was a performance car, a rally car. It was a good era in UK. But it’s history; it’s a long time ago now. It has nothing really to do with the Subaru brand as it is today,” Hurtig told the UK mag.

Sounds like a wake-up call, and the reboot has started. “We’ve changed the management, we’ve changed the team, we’ve changed a lot of things during the second half of 2020. That’s why we’re now starting the recovery scheme,” Hurtig said, adding that online ordering is now available. An updated XV, facelifted Forester and the new sixth-gen Outback off-road wagon will be reaching UK this year.

“2020 was a disaster for us. But from our perspective, there’s a good way forward and a good future for us, which we are very much committed to,” the brand’s UK chief concluded.

Over here in Malaysia, Subaru’s presence in urban areas seems to be relatively strong, with the XV and Forester as its core SUV products. What’s your impression of the AWD-specialist brand and its current crop of cars? Let’s erase that mental image of a blue Impreza with yellow livery and gold rims kicking up rally stage dust, ok?

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Danny Tan

Danny Tan loves driving as much as he loves a certain herbal meat soup, and sweet engine music as much as drum beats. He has been in the auto industry since 2006, previously filling the pages of two motoring magazines before joining this website. Enjoys detailing the experience more than the technical details.



  • Brian on Jan 25, 2021 at 11:51 am

    This brand can close shop dy

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 11
    • Civic Turbo 2018 on Jan 25, 2021 at 4:24 pm

      Toyota invested Subaru. This brand have future

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
      • Celup King on Jan 25, 2021 at 11:38 pm

        Toyota itself has no future. Relying on unkers that are getting older and dwindling, the younger generation not buying their cars and the rich still prefers German brands over their Lexus.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2
  • Datuk Daddy on Jan 25, 2021 at 12:52 pm

    ………….meanwhile in Malaysia, P1, P2, Merc, BMW, etc yearly sales broke record. People had to wait for months before taking delivery of new cars. Sell until habis stock, can you imagine?

    Malaysia’s economy strong, steady and powerful. We have plenty of rich exec, bosses, datuk, celebs, etc. People are buying new cars becoz they have means and money, gaya and taste.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  • Leafable on Jan 25, 2021 at 1:28 pm

    Blame their partner Toyota. The whole UK going for EV and they don’t have a single EV model for sale. Even Uncle Honda have a Honda e

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  • 4G63T DSM on Jan 25, 2021 at 1:32 pm

    That’s what happens when all they know how to do is to milk the Outback and Paul Hogan for 20 years.

    The Forrester is lackluster and completely lost the thing that made it special (hint: drop the CVT and put in a manual). The SV is nothing but a Impreza hatchback and the Legacy has been around so long that it befits its name…a by gone one at that.

    They have been catering for such a small segment of the market until it disappeared all together.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0
  • Bieight on Jan 25, 2021 at 1:43 pm

    Because they pulled out of btcc

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • uk market has never been strong for Subaru, for a small volume niche company its doing quite well in other markets. Still making profits while only just over 1 million units they stay this way rather go super high volume razor thin margins and poor quality cars..niche cars are not for everyone and if Subaru is profitable at this volume plus the over 10% growth in north America and canada..they should stay with their niche hell what others says especially 3rd world markets like Malaysia

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • dong gor on Jan 25, 2021 at 3:56 pm

    agree…this brand can da bao already. Actually with Tesla leading the electric segment, many brands also can close shop. You wanna survive this Tsunami, u need cars like x50/x70 for the mass market. Cheap price with good user experience. Japanese reliability and RV alone are already story of the past.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5
  • Danny Tay on Jan 25, 2021 at 4:04 pm

    how to sell if the current lineup is also outdated? the design does not fit well with euro market, both inside and outside looks like an early 2000s car. and now with zero petrol emissions by 2030 in UK, even atuk and nenek in Manchester is smart enough to avoid this brand entirely. car has no value by the time you own it until 2026-27. yup, no used car dealership will want it. sell it back as grey import to asia? if premium brands perhaps, but this is Subaru, they are not even up to Honda and Toyota quality standards these days. relying on age old inline six engine is not enough.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  • Wife and I both have Subaru’s. I’m on my third and my wife currently looking for her third.
    We visited a dealer and tried out the new Outback and Forester E-Boxer.
    My wife loves her Forester XT and would like another XT. But of course, they are now not available in the UK.
    It seems the best vehicle they do in the UK is the new Outback.
    (Although I would not want one) There is too much clatter from the normally aspirated engine.
    That’s why I like the XT’s so much.
    The turbo gives a little boost and mutes the engine noise.

    The current range is extremely dull, dull, dull. And the E-Boxers, I’ve yet to the see the point of them ?
    Why would anyone consider a Subaru from the UK range ?
    Subaru used to have ‘interesting vehicles’. Why do Subaru UK import the 2.0 & 2.4 Turbo XT engine in the Outback or Forester, when they are available in other parts of the World.
    I personally have purchased two Subaru Legacy Estate Turbo’s that have been imported into the UK as I could not bear being in any of the European SUV/Estates.
    If I could have a new Outback Field XT, I would order one tomorrow !

    I wish all who work at Subaru UK well in their future careers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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