CARS.COM — Subaru will have an electrified vehicle — meaning an electric car, hybrid or plug-in hybrid with a motor that runs at least partially on electric — for shoppers next year. Tom Doll, the automaker's U.S. chief, said to expect one "in market" next year, as Subaru "know[s] we have to have an all-electric vehicle and hybrid vehicles coming in order to comply" with emissions regulations.
Related: More of 2019 Subaru Ascent Surfaces
That would mark the first U.S. hybrid model for Subaru since it discontinued the Crosstrek Hybrid in late 2016. Last April, the automaker promised an unspecified hybrid at some point in the future, but a spokesman declined to share a time frame. Doll's comments change that. They came during questions at AutoConference LA, an industry event hosted by the National Automobile Dealers Association and J.D. Power and Associates on the eve of the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show.
"Our engineers are working diligently with coming up with solutions" on the electric front, Doll said, adding that "you'll start to see things" that are "in market" in 2018. He wouldn't say what type of electrified vehicle would come, but the Japan Times reported last week that Subaru plans to sell plug-in hybrid models in the U.S. sometime in 2018.
Ascent as Popular as Pathfinder?
Subaru is mere hours away from unveiling the all-new Ascent, a three-row SUV that solves "that doughnut hole in our product lineup," Doll told conference attendees. The Ascent is a "true three-row SUV" with seating for up to eight, he said.
Doll thinks Subaru could sell 60,000 to 70,000 — "maybe approaching 80,000" — of these vehicles per year, a range that could put it in an echelon of sales popularity somewhere between the Dodge Durango and Nissan Pathfinder, two established three-row SUVs. Subaru sees its entrant as a way to get larger families back to the brand.
"We have a lot of younger people that purchase our cars, and a lot of older people," he said. "This is the vehicle that allows us to get that [middle] customer back."
Model-Year Changeover the 'Slowest in History'
AutoConference LA comes near the tail of a year that saw new-car sales dip after seven years of consecutive gains. Sales through October were down 1.7 percent by Automotive News' tally, and J.D. Power expects them to dip again in November as dealers try to clear out "record inventories" of prior model-year cars.
Indeed, as of Monday, just 56 percent of new cars on Cars.com were for the 2018 model year. Compare that to a year ago, when 66 percent of new inventory was for 2017 model-year cars. Doll called the transition from 2017s to 2018s "the slowest in history, at least as far as I know."
Still, it's driving high incentives. J.D. Power says discounts as a ratio of MSRP have topped 10 percent in 15 of the past 16 months. November will continue the trend, as the firm expects incentives to hit 10.8 percent of MSRP. That's bad news for the industry — Doll called current incentives levels "crazy" — but good news for shoppers.
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