By on October 14, 2010

Book Reviewed: Where the Suckers Moon: An Advertising Story, by Randall Rothenberg, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, 477 pages.

I don’t know what you get out of the current Subaru Legacy ad campaign, but what I get out of it is: “The Subaru Legacy is so banal, and sucks so unrepentantly hard, that we had to put extra crap on an old Kia Optima to create an alternative you wouldn’t automatically prefer.” This is not the first time Subaru has pointed a shotgun at its own feet, nor is it likely to be the last.

Where The Suckers Moon is, primarily, a story about advertising, but along the way we get a true sense of Subaru itself: a company stumbling from failure to failure, forever being rescued by market conditions, outrageously misinformed buyer perception, and completely random factors. It’s simply a company that is too lucky to fail, no matter how hard it tries.

Although it was originally just another one of the infamous Malcolm Bricklin’s get-poor-quick schemes, Subaru of America found itself an unwitting beneficiary of circumstances beyond its control. An early adoption of part-time 4WD, done at the suggestion of the Japanese Post Office, made the little “DL” and “GL” the darlings of the Northeastern ski set and those who wished to emulate them. Later on, the Voluntary Restraint Agreement meant that every Japanese car that could find its way onto a boat would eventually be sold at a healthy profit somewhere.

Subaru’s almost unbelievably bad advertising tagline, “Inexpensive, and built to stay that way”, wasn’t a bad way to sell extremely cheap cars as sixteenth-birthday gifts to bi-curious Vermont coeds, but as the rising yen pushed prices through the roof, Subaru decided to reinvent itself as a “desire” brand. Their subsequent choice of “Just Do It” creators Wieden+Kennedy, and the “What To Drive” campaign that follows, provides the meat of Randall Rothenberg’s delightful liitle book.

Time and again, Subaru reveals itself to be the most hilariously incompetent of Japanese automakers. In one vignette, Rothenberg describes how a Japanese designer proudly shows a visiting Subaru of America delegation the interior of the new XT, noting that he put in checkerboard seat fabric “for the American dude.” Another chapter details how Wieden+Kennedy’s “visionary” television director refuses to actually put any shots of the Subaru Legacy in his commercial, focusing instead on homoerotic shots of sweaty, muscular line workers.

Caught between the bumbling Japanese and the insane “creatives” are the Subaru dealers, most of them hucksters and confidence men who couldn’t get a Toyota dealership in the Seventies. Their simplest desires are repeatedly frustrated. They want more no-equipment sedans; Subaru gives them the SVX. They want regional advertising to move cars before summer sets in; Subaru spends the money on a magazine ad campaign for which they are later forced to apologize to everybody from MADD to the NHTSA.

At one point in the book, the author cannot restrain himself any longer and states a simple fact: Subarus are primarily sold to people who cannot afford (or, in the VRA era, cannot get) a Honda or Toyota. While that was entirely true in the early Nineties, we are now familiar with Subaru as the people who bring you the WRX, STi, and Legacy GT, to say nothing of the Outback and Forester which actually keep the lights burning at the stars-and-swoosh dealerships.

Still, as we take a look at the way in which Subaru continually manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (look at the STi and current Outback for some great examples) it’s worth noting that reality as described in Where The Suckers Moon hasn’t completely disappeared. It’s worth a read for any number of reasons. And for those of you pointing to Subaru’s current sales success as a refutation of everything I’ve said above… well, perhaps you’re right, but I’d recommend checking Rothenberg’s work out anyway. TTAC readers have recommended it no less than four times in the comments section. Consider this a fifth thumbs-up.

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52 Comments on “Book Review: Where The Suckers Moon...”

  • avatar

    I’m sure it’s a good read, but, c’mon, 16 years later, the entire automotive landscape has been turned on its head. Its current-day relevance is barely there.

    • 0 avatar

      The way OEMs and ad agencies interact hasn’t changed. I agree with Jack that this remains a book well worth reading.
      You might as well say Mad Men isn’t worth watching because it’s set in the 1960s.

    • 0 avatar

      OK, you’re right about the interaction between ad agencies and, well, any industry, Michael. But as to Subie’s position in the auto industry, they’re currently experiencing their own (proportional) Hyundai-like boom. That doesn’t happen to cars made for those who can’t afford Hondas and Toyotas. In that respect, the book is outdated.
      BTW, I’m probably the only person I know who isn’t into Mad Men.

    • 0 avatar

      This is indeed an interesting book. It proves again that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
      Don’t believe it? Read “The Car That Could,” a history of the EV-1. Then think about the Volt. Or read “The Coal Question,” an 1865 book by Stanley Jevons. Then think about peak oil.
      Some old books are classics. Most old books are just old. For me, “Where the Suckers Moon” goes on the classic shelf. Thanks for reviews like this that help us tell the difference.

  • avatar

    I thought the low point in Subaru advertising was an ad from 1992-4 which featured some hipster doofus proudly proclaiming that his Subaru Impreza was “like punk rock”.
    I’d like to hear what Joey Ramone thought of that……

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, that was a real WTF, wasn’t it?  A definite contender for the worst ad of all time for any product.  And yet, they survived…

    • 0 avatar

      I vote the Nassar era Ford advertising for the Lincoln Blackwood that had rave DJ’s spinning tunes on the Blackwood’s tailgate while 20 somethings dance around in an urban street. That for a vehicle with a sales demographic that should have been 50+ old rich guys living on estates…

      • 0 avatar

        Same demo for the Escalade right? Except Cadillac didn’t have to make its own version of that commercial as countless rappers have done those for them continually for a decade and a half.

        Another great example would be Scion and its mini minivan and horizontally squished Matrix copy. Ads featuring active youths loading in endless gear for apparently every extreme and adventure sport on the planet. Reality being middle aged and elderly folks falling for their prices utility (think craft fair totes rather than mountain bikes)and of course the ability to get in and out with out either climbing or bending to spare arthritic knees and stiff backs.

        Even the nice looking and optioned TC was off the mark being just to soft to be taken seriously by the performance oriented subset of the target shopper. Thus ending up yet another cute “sporty” coupe condemned to a life as an appliance for neglectful daddies girls.

    • 0 avatar

      Why do advertising companies and car companies think they are doing themselves any favors by appealing to ANY narrowly defined demographic? No way I would advertise cars using people unless I had a series of commercials using the vehicle in many different settings with many different peoples. In fact I’d probably lean heavily towards advertising what the car could do rather than who was driving it.
      I would do really straight forward advertising ideas like testimonials – just to be different for a while – “I didn’t think this car would be big enough but we really like it b/c…”
      -or- “We really wanted a way to carry our whole family without the size and mileage of a large SUV so we tried a -insert vehicle name- and found we really like it. My coworker let us drive his -insert vehicle name- to lunch and we were very impressed. It has…”
      I don’t need to see anymore abstract Detroit product adds of cars driving around a city to “meh” music at accelerated framerates unless the soundtrack music is really edgy (see Mitsubishi or VW). I don’t need to see any more loads of rock dropped into a truck from 5ft and then the truck twisting and tearing itself apart down a rock/log strewn dirt path. Who treats a new truck like that?

  • avatar

    Poor Subie – such a disaster.

    Past styling achievements – not the greatest
    Mechanical Longevity past 100K – not the greatest
    Body longevity due to salt – not the greatest
    Dealer network – definitely not that large
    However, given that Subies are a good compromise between gas mileage and all wheel drive – it’s a good winter vehicle in places where you have to drive on steep inclines – i.e. Colorado.
    Put a set of snows on one of their cars in November – and – a Subie does earn its current market place niche.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      FWIW, when I was in the snowbelt, I saw more old, rusted-out Subies plying the roads than you’d guess could still be around.

      They build a good car, and sell it at a fair price.

      Nothing wrong with that.

    • 0 avatar

      My grandparents had 2 subies from the late 80s, both made it to over 300k. These were not well maintained vehicles either.

    • 0 avatar

      99’ish 2.5 Subies definitely had a rep for some head gasket issues after 100K. Wheel bearings of the same vintage needed replacement sooner than a CR-V or RAV 4.

      I believe the dealer’s here still stock a 2010 base Forester for under 20K before dealer prep, destination, tax, title and license fees.
      Compare that to a Honda CRV or Toyota RAV-4 – which start slightly higher or a Ford Escape around the same price.  All of which lack AWD in their base trims. 

      All though it may not matter to 90% of compact ute buyers, only the Subie still gives you the row your own gears option with AWD.

    • 0 avatar

      IMO, I don’t think Subarus have ever gotten great gas mileage.  The current Impreza gets 27 highway with a manual, which is poor for a compact car.  They are otherwise nice, somewhat rare vehicles, but if you don’t need the AWD, there are more economical options.

  • avatar

    Lucky for everyone then they had a decent product to sell, then.  Not everyone is swayed by marketing, and probably only a small minority of people reading this article would be.

    And how does this book cover Subaru’s marketing since the mid 90s?  Plastic clad tart it was, Paul Hogan shifted lots of Outbacks and got people to look at Foresters.  And that’s before getting into the RS and later WRX which was pretty well pitched to the performance crowd.

    I admit the new Legacy is pretty hideous, though.  And I’m not thrilled at the mechanical complexities and lack of parts compatibility that Subarus used to have.  But my father could probably say the same thing about BMWs from the 70s when Max Hoffman was selling them for peanuts (at least compared to today).

  • avatar

    I own and read this book. It gives an interesting insight into how advertising companies compete and are evaluated. It makes me glad to be an engineer.

  • avatar

    I work in advertising (not automotive), finally got around to reading this a couple of years ago and enjoyed it immensely. What’s really incredible looking back is the SUV opportunity missed by the AWD pioneer. (Not to mention the ugly mug and stupid name of the B9 Tribeca.)

  • avatar
    slow kills

    Checkerboard seating actually makes sense in the Jeff Spicoli era.

    If this book explains why Subaru chose Martina Navriltolova as a spokesperson, I’ll read it.  I always wondered if that was a winking acknowledgment of popularity among a certain demographic or just more inept cluelessness.

  • avatar

    Subarus are primarily sold to people who cannot afford (or, in the VRA era, cannot get) a Honda or Toyota.
    That’s not true anymore.  These days, Subarus are sold to people afraid to use RWD or FWD on the ice and snow.

    • 0 avatar

      “Afraid to use RWD or FWD on ice and snow”? Ridiculous.
      I have one Subaru (’03 Legacy 5-speed wagon, 2.5) and am about to add another (’06 Forester 5-speed, 2.5) – and I enjoy having all four wheels driving the car even on dry roads. I love taking corners fast and not having my tires squeal. AWD security on a wet highway with a family aboard is, of course, great too. And structurally these cars are top-notch: 18 months ago on a nice day, a guy ran a red light and hit us in the right rear of the Legacy, and although shaken up (spun 180 degrees) we weren’t injured other than a little sideways whiplash for the rear seat passengers; this is a primary reason we’re getting another to replace our ’99 Prizm. [I have had decades of experience with (front-heavy) RWD cars and several FWD ones on slippery roads and wouldn’t go back. Nearly all my driving has been in the Northeast, except for 11 or 12 winters in Minnesota.]
      I’ve recommended Where the Suckers Moon, perhaps not at this site. Subaru’s misguided idea that it could field a broad range of FWD and AWD cars (Legacy, Justy, SVX, Loyale, and the then-new Impreza) would have gone nowhere even if not saddled with the “What to Drive” campaign, but nonetheless it is an entertaining book.

    • 0 avatar

      My Subarus probably got me into more trouble with overconfidence and actually believing marketing speak than they helped with winter driving.  My GTI that I bought after my Impreza did fine in normal snow with snow tires… up to 3″ or so.  After that, ground clearance became an issue and no amount of snow tires will make up for that. 

      That said, I’m happy to have my 4Runner for winter this year.  There were some sketchy situations in my GTI last year where ground clearance limitations would have left me stranded if I accidentally ventured off the road any.  I need to sit down and purchase some snow tires for my 4Runner, though. 

  • avatar

    I’m sorry, but unless you’re pushing some ridiculous power at the wheels there isn’t much an AWD system is going to do to help you drive in the dry.  I hear this all the time from Audi and Subaru buyers…
    On wet roads, where the issue is hydroplaning, the solution is longer wheelbases and ESP, or just a set of decent modern tires. On snowy roads AWD can certainly help get you going, but unless you’re making turns on the throttle with some serious yaw angles (no ESP then) it isn’t helping you turn. And on dry roads…unless you have ridiculously short gear ratios and monster power, it’s just sucking away at your car’s potential. AWD can generate results when very aggresively driven, usually on a closed course, but is otherwise really only useful for steep driveways and other low speed obstacles.
    All that being said I like the Legacy wagon a lot.

  • avatar

    Up until this post, I really hadn’t thought much about how long and how bad Subaru’s advertising has been. I’m still stunned at the raft of commercials that have been out in the last couple of years, particularly where the Forester gets sent out to pasture… Or the one where the people ‘inadvertantly’ join in a parade… Or the latest one where the insufferably cute couple can’t find his sunglasses…  Another (least) favorite is the commercial about how the Indiana assembly plant is zero landfill, like they’re the only ones on the planet that do this… All dreck.
    The cars must be pretty good to survive all of these garbled messages…

    • 0 avatar

      That’s the real message. In spite of inept advertising and not having the sexiest looking cars on the road – they still sell, because they’re #1 safe to drive in inclement weather and with some proper maintenance once they’ve aged a bit, they seem to last a good while.

    • 0 avatar

      I love the parade commercial.
      The car has one bicycle and one kayak on the roof. Nice couple’s adventure weekend.

  • avatar

    There’s no possible way anyone can describe Subaru as a failure. None. Perhaps my view is skewed because I live in NE and Subarus are pretty much the state bird around here, but they are all over the highways. My wife drives one daily, beats the ever loving hell out of it and has wrecked it twice, and yet at 127K miles it keeps rolling along with nary a complaint.
    They must build pretty goddamn good vehicles to overcome their crappy advertising if that’s the case. They are unstylish but pretty practical, they are not that expensive, they are pretty easy to maintain, they do great in lousy weather.

  • avatar

    I don’t get a chance to read many books, but one that I did find interesting was The End of Detroit: How the Big Three Lost Their Grip on the American Car Market by Micheline Maynard. Now everyone’s piling on the domestic automakers with some good reason – they blew it themselves. As for Subaru – I doubt if I’ll read this book unless I find it at the library, but I get pretty much everything I need to know about the industry from TTAC, now.

    As to whether it’s relevant in light of Subaru’s recent fortunes, sure – one needs to be aware of ones’ own history so they can repeat it on a regular basis.

    As for “Mad Men”, I’d like to see that series, but I rarely watch TV, either, besides what passes for news and precious little else. I just don’t have the time. I do understand that the series captures the era quite accurately, and for that, it’s worth watching. Reading a book about an automaker’s past issues is worth reading for the reasons already stated above.

    Nice review, Jack.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      If you can find a copy (it’s out of print IIRC), perhaps at a public library, I’d recommend _The Reckoning_, by David Halberstam:

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the recommendation. Was that or the book below the book that featured the story about Ford market researchers finding adult people in California who had never even ridden in a Ford much less had family members who owned a Ford?  And that this fact blew the market researchers minds along with the execs running the research program. That story got a good chuckle from me too.

  • avatar

    It seems to me that Subaru is one of a very few companies that offer what many on this forum seek:
    1. A real car based station wagon
    2. Stick shift
    3. sub $25k starting prices
    4. reliability.
    I’ve never seen a Subaru ad -one of the benefits of not watching TV, so their Marketing may indeed be flawed, but their cars are certainly not. I think Jack has perhaps been trounced one too many times by a WRX….
    I am not a current Subaru owner, but they do seem to be the state car here in W. CO. Also – they do seem to be the most prevalent Japanese car in Switzerland based on my observations during regular trips there.

    • 0 avatar

      The recurring theme of this site is chastising car companies for not sticking to their core goals. Well, what does Subaru do? AWD on every model they offer. Wagons, wagons, wagons, as far as the eye can see, throughout an era where the mighty SUV reigned supreme and almost every other car manufacturer (save Volvo) didn’t bother with wagons. Sticking to the boxer 4 come hell or high water. Practicality over form almost every time. Reasonable prices. And rugged reliability.

      Yes, they’ve delved into some other realms and yes, the Tribeca was a misstep for them. But talk about a car company that sticks to their niche and is freakin’ good at it.

  • avatar

    “sixteenth-birthday gifts to bi-curious Vermont coeds”
    Whoa, whoa, whoa back up there.  Are these that common in Vermont?  And why didn’t anyone tell me in my formative years?

  • avatar

    I have a WRX and Forester, I also have a 400 hp rear drive car and have owned a number of FWDs.  Anyone who says AWD doesn’t help immensely in rain and snow has never driven a Subaru.  They are also a load of run on back mountain dirt and gravel roads.  Also, try doing a clutch drop at 6000 rpm in a WRX or STi and tell me it doesn’t help with dry traction.  The Honda or Toyota comment is ridiculous, most boring cars… ever.  The only cool ones, the Solara and Prelude were never replaced as far as I can tell.  BUT, the 5door only WRX was not a smart move, glad they are going back to the sedan.  The AWD hurts the gas milage, but in the snow belt that is a small trade off for traction.

  • avatar

    Not all Subaru adds sucked.  The Paul Hogan ones were very popular, and the Lance Armstrong and mountain-bike themed adds were OK, too.

    With the exceptions of the SVX and 4th gen Legacy, they have been…uniquely styled cars.  You can’t say they aren’t distinctive and stand out though.  Not many bland, unrecognizable jelly beans.

    As far as a Subaru’s qualities…well, when I first drove a gen 1 Legacy when they were new, the handling blew everything else off the road.  Very communicative and confidence-inspiring…although that’s been reduced in the 5th gen.  The WRX was a real game-changer in affordable performance.  I wouldn’t waste my time on a Subaru sedan, but the wagons are amazingly well thought out and very practical for outdoorsy types, dog owners, and those who have to deal with a lot of foul weather.  Not many companies offer car-based wagons any more.  I believe everything in their lineup but the forgotten Tribeca offer a stick, too.

    To top it all off, except for a few well-known exceptions, their reliability has been pretty damn good since the mid-80’s, and their safety ratings have been near the top of the heap for a very long time.

    All in all, they’re very good, weird looking cars.

  • avatar

    Funny, but my exact take on the Subaru. I’d always thought they were drifting from snow bank to snow bank like a pinball on ice heading downhill from Paradise (Mt. Rainer). Not to say I didn’t buy their cars and drove the pants off them. The GL FWD wagon was a hoot and very utilitarian wagon. The 4wd XT (non turbo thank god) was like a poor man’s Lancia Stratos, weird spacy look with that funky single windshield wiper and electrohydropneumatic suspension..when that failed at 230K, might as well toss the car (which the guy I sold it to for $500 did). Between the two, I racked up 400K+ miles with really low maintenance costs..but when they eventually failed it was like it all went at once.

  • avatar

    That’s why Cadillacs drive Subaru.

  • avatar

    My parents had a Honda Civic and then bought a new Subaru GL 4WD in 1981.  They bought it because my father wanted 4WD in a car, not truck, and didn’t want a POS American Motors product. Back then SUVs were really trucks with extra seats- the Ford Bronco II was still a couple years off. The Subaru GL 4WD was good 4 door small car plus the old man outfitted it with the OEM white dual bush bar and skid plate which was wacky looking back then.
    Anyone remember the funky middle grill passing lamp under the Subaru emblem? Because my father did get the steel bush bar bumper the dealer had to install some sort of different motor rod to make the cover raise.
    in 1987 the old man traded the Subaru for a combo deal on an ’86 D-50 Mini Ram p/u and an ’86 Chrysler 5th Ave with a used car dealer friend. The used car guy immediately wholesaled the Subaru right up to Maine or Vermont…

  • avatar

    Philly’s past winter set a record for snowfall. I have a 12-year-old FWD Civic; my roommate has a 12-year old Legacy wagon (back when they were still pretty good-looking.) She never got stuck, but neither did I; my car was light enough to boing around like an Opel Kadett on the Makgadikgadi Pan, even down 15% grade hills.

    I was never at risk of getting stuck or ending up somewhere I didn’t want to be due to skidding. All it took was careful driving. She could drive the Subie around icy corners and down icy straights a bit faster than me due to the extra grip AWD affords…that’s about it. But on those iciest days, you’re hardly in a race.

    Unless every winter sets a new record for snowfall, when the heck would I need the extra cost and complexity of AWD if I didn’t need it this past winter?

    • 0 avatar

      Living in a city you probably DON’T need AWD or 4WD.  Living in places where I’ve pretty regularly had a 10+ mile commute home on unplowed roads with a foot of snow, it’s a nice to have 4WD and a little extra ground clearance.  I remember gunning my 87 Nova (FWD with snow tires) up my parent’s 1.5 mile road in the winter, foot on the floor the whole time, slewing from side to side, knowing that if I stopped I’d have to back up to the last flat section and try it again.  Being able to just motor on up, in 4WD when necessary, in my subsequent vehicles is tons easier and safer.

  • avatar

    As I said in my comment above, I liked this review and I liked the book. But I might mention that the title seems poorly chosen to me.
    “Where the Suckers Moon.” You shouldn’t judge a book by its title any more than by its cover. Still, I often do. And I cannot remember a book with a less enticing title.
    Very odd choice.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. Does “Moon” mean the same as another common term on this website, “Hoon”? Is that like “mooning”, only with one’s pants not pulled down?

    • 0 avatar

      The title comes from a passage in a somewhat fictionalized biography about a con man: “The Colonel has always believed that fortune swims, not with the main stream of letters, but in the shallows where the suckers moon.”

      The passage in the novel is, on the surface, talking about fish looking at the moon. But below the surface the reference is to the suckers who get taken in by the con man. The title of the book also plays on this double meaning. In other words, advertising in an industry that thrives on suckers.

      I sense that there’s something clever there. I just can’t figure out what. For me, the title gives a pretty poor impression for a pretty good book.

  • avatar

    That’s why Cadillacs drive Subaru.
    And MERCURY Morris liked Subaru…before the coke bust. Not to mention Presidential daughter Susan FORD….
    Now, THAT was a terrific ad campaign. Also, let’s not forget how Blondie sang of “Cadillacs…Lincolns too….Mercuries and Subarus…”

  • avatar
    Sam P

    I owned a Subaru Outback for close to 5 years. My wife still owns one. The Outback was bookended by a Volvo 940 Turbo and my current BMW 330i.
    The doubters can go on about how well rear wheel drive with snow tires does, but the fact of the matter is, in the mountains of Washington and Oregon, my AWD Subaru Outback easily went through conditions on all-season tires that would have been a white-knuckled nightmare in either the BMW or the Volvo (which was shod with studless Michelin snow tires in the winter).

  • avatar

    The only memorable Subaru ad I can think of is the Sumo wrestler carwash Forester ads. Pretty funny but did it sell any cars? 

  • avatar

    We are the stereotypical multi-subaru Vermont family.  I know that many don’t believe it, but AWD actually is useful here —  about 1/2 of the roads in the state are unpaved, as you drive the elevation can rapidly change 1000′ or more, and the big kicker last night (october 15th), we got snow.
    No one I know has their snow tires on yet, and driving through this crap last night without the subie would have been terrifying.  There is a reason the official state car is a rusting gen-1 Legacy wagon.

  • avatar

    Before 2006, Subaru USA was content importing Japanese cars for American customers, which included Japanese quirks of limited rear seat legroom, mondo turbo rush, and other “unique” features.  They tried positioning themselves as a Japanese BMW, but lacked the vehicle refinement to pull it off.
    Around 2006, Subaru USA began extensively surveying their customers to understand what improvements were desired.  The results are the 2009 Forester,  2010 Outback and Legacy, all of which made dramatic sales improvements because they better fit USA drivers preferences.  In essence, Subaru made their cars practical transportation.
    Subaru also listened to complaints about, and made improvements to WRX and STI (including adding the useless sedan wing some drivers were were screaming for), but perhaps nothing but RWD and 600+ hp will do for that market.
    The only remaining “Japanese market” Subaru sold in USA is the Tribeca, which is not doing very well, perhaps because, for starters, it has less interior space than the smaller, cheaper Toyota RAV4.

    Should also add I’ve seen many a Germanic and “Hooneriffic” sports car stuck at bottoms of snowy hills that my trusty ’09 Forester climbs with ease.

  • avatar

    I read Where The Suckers Moon back when it first came out. I don’t know how well it has aged, but it was a fascinating read back then.
    A couple of salient points:
    Other comments have lauded Subaru for ‘sticking to what they know’ (i.e. 4WD and station wagons). Well, during the time of the book, that was exactly what Subaru ***wasn’t***doing. They had moderate success selling in niche 4WD-dependent markets (remember, this was before the SUV boom) and to people who couldn’t/wouldn’t pay the price gouging at Honda/Nissan/Toyota because of Detroit’s suckitude and the Voluntary Restraint Agreement (which capped supply of Japanese cars significantly below demand).
    But Subaru had delusions of grandeur and considered themselves the equal of the Nippon Big 3. Maybe they were, but their potential customers didn’t see Subaru that way.
    Only after their attempt to become a ‘mainstream’ car maker ended in disaster did Subaru retreat into their niche (just in time for the ‘extreme sports’/SUV/gotta have 4WD mid-1990s).
    One thing that really burned Subaru during the events of the book was their near-total misunderstanding of the advertising industry. Perhaps things are better now, but during the time of the book, the advertising industry wasn’t measured on what moved product, but by what impressed other people in the advertising industry. ‘Hot’ ad agencies weren’t the ones who increased their clients sales by double-digit percentages, but those whose ads were praised in Advertising Age.
    So Subaru hired a ‘hot’ agency that knew nothing about Subaru, nothing about selling cars, nothing about Subaru’s actual customer base, and whose primary goal was to create ‘buzz’ for their agency through cutting-edge aesthetics. As history has shown, that didn’t turn out all that well.

  • avatar
    Phil in Englewood

    I got a 2000 Outback because I wanted the utility of a wagon and figured (correctly) that I would never get stuck with my 17′ boat at the launch ramp. I’ve pulled a friends 20′ boat out of a poor ramp without the slightest problem when his Honda Pilot spun wheels and slid around so badly that we used the Outback the next time. At 147K miles, the Subie was destroyed at sunset as I drove 65mph on the Interstate, hit just behind the left front wheel by a cruise missile of a Lexus whose driver had fallen asleep and managed to accelerate to ramming speed. I was spun 360, both cars were totalled. I had a stiff neck for a day and a couple of bruises on the back of my leg. I now own a 2006, up to 82K miles without the slightest problems. So, Outback has been good to me.

  • avatar
    Jan Bayus

    I think the main point is Subaru was lucky riding on the coat tails of Toyota and Honda in the past AND although they have cut out a niche market with decent products, they still can’t help but stepping on their middle leg whenever they can. Their WRX and STI efforts are bland while their concept was GRAND and entirely doable. Their Outback Wagon’s concept is as good as it gets staying wise and yet…. The company will not exist in ten years at the rate they are ignoring the market. I have an 07 Outback, bad mileage but dependable. Nice driver too, but when it needs to be replaced, and if the new wagon is a refresh of the 2013 model, will look at other options. I know the Forester is a good vehicle, but it isn’t something I would drive. I want a turbo Outback or better yet a 6 cyl turbo.

  • avatar
    Mark in Maine

    My wife got me into Subarus – she’d had one or two (including an XT), when we traded her Altima for a Forester a few years back. We outgrew it, but still had her Mother’s last car, a ’95 Legacy wagon. I can attest to the sturdiness of that one, as our 15.75 year-old Daughter – permit freshly in hand – turned in front of a Sonata, which then tried but failed to enter our car through the passenger side. I was rattled pretty good, our mint 75,000 mile wagon was totaled, but she still managed to drive it out of traffic to the curb. I bought a ’98 5m Outback for a grand, last year. Tennessee import, so no rust, but it is starting to need timing belts, cam seals, throwout bearing, etc. The thing drives acceptably well and is still pretty reliable, but it might just be time to go used Forester hunting.

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