According to Nobuhiko Murakami, Subaru’s senior VP of global marketing, the rogue Japanese automaker is currently in the throes of making the most difficult, high-impact decision they’ve had to make in the past 10 years. The news comes from an interview between Murakami and Automotive News (subscription required), where the former is explaining the two answers Subaru is mulling for this one question:
What will replace the Subaru Tribeca?
No one was surprised when Subaru removed the Tribeca from their lineup at the beginning of 2014. Their large crossover was an extremely low-seller for a couple different reasons. First, it just looks too weird; families didn’t like it. Strange looks work in segments where drivers value innovation, not when you’re dealing with a conservative audience and facing off against such well-established competition. Which brings us to the second reason…
As Murakami told AN, competition in the large crossover segment is “so strong”. Whatever SUV Subaru offers in this segment will need to stand out from the likes of the Toyota Highlander and Nissan Pathfinder, along with the upcoming third-generation Honda Pilot.
So, whatever Subaru comes up with needs to simultaneously be conservative enough to appeal to families, but distinct enough to stand out from the competition. Apparently they’ve narrowed it down to two options:
Option 1 is to develop an all-new three-row SUV from the ground up with its own distinct look and feel. Basically, this is exactly what they did with the Tribeca back in 2004.
Option 2 is to keep it simple – just make a bigger Outback and keep it in the Outback lineup.
The advantages of option 1 are that Subaru would be able to develop an offer around specific features that may not be available in the current Outback. The disadvantage would be extra R&D costs, presumably extra manufacturing costs, and of course the risk that they will pull another Tribeca incident.
The advantages of option 2 are that Subaru already has a highly successful, proven platform in the form of their Outback that they could use for development, manufacturing and even promotion/sales. You can almost see the conversation on the dealership floor: “Ma’am, if you’d like we have that Outback with an extra row of seats.” The only possible disadvantage would be if Subie wants a large crossover with a feature, chassis or layout that can’t be simply transformed from the current Outback. But that seems unlikely.
When you look at it like that, the answer seems pretty simple. A three-row outback is a natural fit for the lineup, and should be more than capable of hitting the Tribeca’s original sales goal of 36,000 units per year. Whatever Subaru does though, it’ll be tough to do worse than the 732 Tribecas they sold last year.