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Subaru Sees Strong Gains In 2009

Automaker saw a 15.4 percent sales increase over 2008 and boosted its market share from 1.4 percent to 2.1 percent.

DETROIT (AP) -- Even as the broader auto market plummeted, Subaru of America sold more cars than ever in 2009 as its all-wheel drive vehicles, popular among outdoor-minded buyers, attracted more baby boomers.

The Japanese automaker rode its restyled lineup to a 15.4 percent sales increase over 2008 and boosted its market share from 1.4 percent to 2.1 percent.

At the North American International Auto Show Tuesday, Subaru released a new options package for the Forester compact crossover sport utility vehicle, its best-seller in 2009 with 77,781 sales. New options include 16-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, improved headlights, folding rear seats and an adjustable steering wheel. The Forester's base price is $20,295.

Subaru branched out from the crunchy-granola, strap-your-kayak-to-the-roof crowd and marketed itself to baby boomers downsizing from truck-based sport utility vehicles made mainly by Detroit automakers.

Aaron Bragman, an auto analyst for the consulting firm IHS Global Insight in Troy, Mich., said Subaru has differentiated itself by offering all-wheel drive in small cars that are unmatched by other automakers.

"You can get the fuel economy with that," he said. "It gives them a competitive edge."

Thomas Doll, executive vice president of Subaru of America, said its new styling, improved fuel economy and slightly larger vehicles pulled buyers over from Chrysler Group LLC's rugged Jeep brand and from Ford Motor Co., while Subaru expanded its core market of people who love dogs and the outdoors.

Subaru also spent more on marketing and advertising, Doll said.

New products like the Legacy sedan and Outback wagon came out in August and September equipped with a continuously variable transmission that boosted gas mileage, he said. He expects to sell even more vehicles this year, the first that the new Legacy and Outback will be available all year.

The company also emphasized the safety of Subaru's all-wheel-drive -- which it produces with about the same gas mileage as a standard front-wheel-drive car, he said. The Legacy, for instance, gets up to 31 miles per gallon on the highway and 23 in the city.

"The cars are styled and they're sized better, whereas before, the vehicle sizes were a little bit on the smaller side," Doll said on the floor of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. "It puts us into a different bracket and a different level of consideration."

Subaru also promised a gas-electric hybrid some time in 2012 and showed a sleek concept car that may become that hybrid.

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