The Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S are The Cars We Demanded, but lately everyone thinks they're The Cars No One Is Buying. But do they really deserve that reputation? I did some digging, and I don't think Toyobaru sales are worth freaking out over yet.
The idea that the Toyobaru twins may not be strong sellers started last month when the UK's AutoExpress published a report quoting Toyota Vice President for European R&D Gerald Killmann as saying the GT86, as it is known over there, is "flagging behind its sales targets in all major markets."
Killmann ascribed this situation to a demand for more power, but said such a car couldn't be justified for production based on current sales numbers. A Catch-22, in other words.
We picked up on that story as well, but to Zac's credit he raised the point that AutoExpress did not — that Killmann may have been talking specifically about European markets and not the rest of the world. His remarks make sense in the context of Europe's current economic climate, where car sales have been in a years-long slump.
Let's go back to 2012 when this car launched. Two summers ago, Subaru, the company that actually builds all versions of the cars, had to crank up production to meet the unexpected demand of the car. At one point, the twins were even the fastest selling cars in the U.S., spending just four or five days on a car lot before going off to their new homes. That kind of turnaround is insane.
Now, all of a sudden, they're not selling well? Sales are "disappointing"? What happened?
I'll tell you what those reports are: wrong. The car is selling just fine, at least here in the U.S.
Our friends at Autoblog asked Scion and Subaru how things are going, and Scion VP Doug Murtha told them the FR-S sold 18,000 units last year, which was in line with original expectations for the car. Subaru also said they're happy with U.S. sales at about 8,500 units a year. Combined, both FR-S and BRZ outsold the WRX in 2013.
If you don't believe the flacks, look at the numbers themselves, care of sales tracking site Good Car Bad Car.
On average, they're moving 1,000 to 1,900 FR-Ses a month and between 400 and 900 BRZs. The Scion is clearly the stronger seller of the two, but it's also a little cheaper.
On their face those numbers may not seem terribly impressive. Only a few hundred or a little more than a thousand a month? How can that be considered successful? But keep in mind the Toyobaru was always meant to be a low-volume sports car with a niche appeal.
The twins are also selling better than many of their competitors, including more practical ones. FR-S sales typically trumped Volkswagen GTI sales, for example; while they aren't direct competitors, they are similarly-priced sporting cars that probably vie for at least some of the same buyers.
So let's look at the Toyobaru's most direct competitor, the Mazda Miata MX-5. The Miata may be the answer to everything, but apparently not to beating the BRZ at selling cars, perhaps because it's somewhat less practical than those cars. It has also been on the market since the middle of the last decade and is due for a replacement soon.
The FR-S is also doing much better than the more powerful, more expensive, less practical Nissan 370Z. Remind me again how a boost in power is supposed to save this car from failure? (Hyundai doesn't differentiate between Genesis Coupe and Genesis Sedan sales in the U.S., so it's hard to tell how the Toyobaru is doing there.)
Of course, the FR-S and BRZ can't hold a candle to sales of the Ford Mustang or the Chevrolet Camaro, but that's to be expected. It's a niche newcomer and those two are American icons, titans known and loved by all with a much broader appeal and more version dealers can unload like the ZL1 and Boss 302.
Sales of both the BRZ and FR-S have been down a bit in recent months, but I think that has more to do with this harsh, never-ending winter that has hammered much of the U.S. rather than America hitting Peak Toyobaru. People just don't buy as many rear-wheel drive sports cars in the cold months, which is why all-wheel drive cars have been surging lately.
Another point: Nissan just greenlit the IDx Concept to apparently do battle with the Toyobaru, and the Kia GT4 Stinger looks poised to do the same. Would other automakers explore this niche if the FR-S and BRZ were a failure? I doubt it.
Could sales be stronger for these cars? Sure. Any car's sales could stand to get a boost. For now, I don't think the FR-S and BRZ are floundering as much as people think.
But that could happen. The car has been on the market for two years now without any substantial changes. It could use something soon to spice it up, like a nice mid-cycle refresh, a convertible version, or most preferably, a more powerful version everyone says they want.
Unlike many of the Toyobaru's Internet critics, I have actually driven it, and I think its power is more than adequate for what the car is supposed to be, and as a whole it's a hell of a lot of fun. I also have to wonder how much money people would really be willing to pay for a faster version of this car; I'm not sure I see them paying into the $30,000 range for that.
Don't count the Toyobaru twins out just yet. They seem to be doing just fine.