TOKYO — Subaru won't be back to racking up record U.S. sales for at least two more years.
That's the warning from the global CEO, who predicted here last week that the COVID-19 pandemic will cause Subaru's U.S. sales to fall 14 percent this year to their lowest level since 2015.
Subaru Corp. began 2020 expecting to achieve a 12th consecutive year of record U.S. sales. Tomomi Nakamura, the Japanese carmaker's global boss, forecast early in the year that U.S. deliveries would soar as high as 725,000 units, up from an all-time high of 700,117 in 2019.
Nakamura now says U.S. shipments are expected to fall to around 600,000 vehicles in 2020.
Looking to 2021, Subaru's U.S. sales could recover to around 650,000 or 660,000 vehicles, Nakamura said. But that would still be off Subaru's recent record-setting pace.
"For now, I am afraid it will be difficult for us to bring annual sales back to 700,000 units in the calendar year 2021," Nakamura said at the company's global headquarters after launching the redesigned Levorg, a Japan-market wagon that gets an upgrade of Subaru's driver-assist system. Called EyeSight X, the new technology allows hands-free driving in congested highway traffic.
The rate of recovery will likely be different for retail sales and fleet shipments, he said, cautioning that there is still a lot of uncertainty in the market. A faster recovery of retail sales in the U.S., which have shown a brisk rebound, should help retail-reliant Subaru gain market share.
Nakamura noted that fleet accounts for only 1 or 2 percent of Subaru's sales.
Subaru will announce a more concrete U.S. sales forecast toward the end of the year, he said.
In August, Subaru forecast that parent-company operating profit would fall 62 percent in the current fiscal year ending March 31, 2021, while net income retreats 61 percent.
At the time, it predicted its global sales would decline 13 percent to 900,000 vehicles.
Nakamura touted Subaru's internal combustion engine capabilities and pledged to stay with gasoline powertrains until they fade from the market completely.
To meet California emissions requirements, he said, Subaru will deploy a mix of gasoline, hybrid and electric vehicles. Subaru is working on an EV crossover with Toyota.
The redesigned Japan-market Levorg has a lean-burning 1.8-liter direct-injection turbo engine. With that engine, Nakamura said, there will be no need for a hybrid version, even in hybrid-loving Japan.
Subaru wants to derive 40 percent of its global sales from electrified vehicles by 2030. But Subaru will keep fine-tuning internal combustion technology, he said, until it goes away.
"If environmental regulations continue to strengthen further as we see now, I think there will come a time when internal combustion engines will be phased out," Nakamura said. "But this area is Subaru's core. So we are committed to surviving [in this area] for as long as we can."