Last year in the United States, Subaru dealers sold a new Outback wagon every 2.94 minutes. Sales were brisker the year before, when dealers sold a new Outback every 2.78 minutes. It cracked the 50,000-units-per-year barrier every year but one starting in 1997, and has shifted more than 100,000 units annually in the United States every year since 2011. From 2013-2015, Kelley Blue Book said the Outback sat on dealer lots for less time than any other car on sale. Here’s a starker set of numbers: J.D. Power, as quoted in a CNBC video, put the U.S. station wagon market at 1.4% of the total U.S. car market in 2018. However, the Outback alone was 1.2%, meaning the sales of every other wagon amounted to a minuscule 0.2% of the total car market. Or, as Road & Track put it, “Out of every 20 wagons sold here, 17 are Subaru Outbacks. Damn.”
Without taking anything away from Subaru, we need to thank Audi again for bringing the RS 6 Avant and A6 Allroad here, even if the best the Ingolstadt brand can do is bleed marketing dollars to scrap it out with every other automaker for, well, scraps.
The CNBC vid doesn’t get into how the Outback became the wagon heavyweight save for a mention about it being “part wagon, part crossover” and saying it has “evolved to incorporate more attributes of SUVs and crossovers” like all-wheel drive. That take overlooks the fact that Subaru debuted the jacked-up, bold-faced Legacy Outback at the end of 1994 as a 1995-model-year offering. Subaru designed the Legacy Outback to be a wagon/SUV tweener, well after Subaru was already known for its AWD chops, and before anyone had coined the word “crossover.” The Toyota RAV4, now credited as being the first crossover, didn’t show until early 1996. A Subaru exec said in 2014, “We could see the sales explode in SUVs and nobody else really produced a car-based SUV.” That quote, by the way, came in a nifty article about the death of the station wagon, shortly after the author wrote, “The real culprit behind the disappearance of the middle class wagon in America (besides the entire American car-buying public) is, in my opinion, the Subaru Outback.”
It helped that Subaru knew its niche and built just the car its customers wanted, which is why Car and Driver named the Outback the best wagon for an active, outdoor lifestyle, why Autotrader calls it “the best of a few different worlds,” and why CarMax has averaged more than two used Outbacks sold every day for 13 years.
But the marketing campaigns sealed it. Practically picking up where Subaru left off with irreverent DL wagon marketing in the 1970s – that was the wagon that “climbed like a goat, worked like a horse and ate like a bird” – Subaru has put Crocodile Dundee, Lance Armstrong, shaming the Germans, animals who want Ricky, honeymooners, and the “Love” of oh so many dogs to work in the wild, mountainous, rainy outdoors flogging its wares. Any CMOs looking for a case study in ROI, the Outback is that, too. Anyone looking for another sad story about the dim future for wagons, check out the video above.