Subaru Steps Up Quality Control After Embarrassing Growing Pains

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
subaru steps up quality control after embarrassing growing pains

Remember the I Love Lucy sketch when Lucy gets a job at a factory where she has to wrap chocolates? She’s feeling pretty smug over how well she is performing until they accelerate the line and candies begin spilling out onto the floor and she scrambles around trying to save them all.

Well Subaru is suffering from a similar, less hysterical, problem right now with its own quality control.

The Japanese automaker has continued to break its own sales records over the last decade. However, during this rocket ride to planet sales, the company has seen a gradual lapse in quality. There was an influx of recalls this year and the company also saw itself drop six places in this year’s Consumer Reports reliability rating.

Subaru and its parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries, don’t want to make a habit of this.

During an interview with Automotive News, Fuji CEO Yasuyuki Yoshinaga said quality was Subaru’s primary concern and the company has begun efforts to avoid future problems while continuing to manage its impressive and consistent growth.

“We’ve always been focusing on quality, but we did have an increase in recalls,” Yoshinaga said. “We’ve assigned a former FHI officer who was in charge of global quality assurance to oversee and enhance Subaru’s quality in the U.S. market.”

Like many rapidly expanding automotive manufacturers, Subaru’s lapse in quality is almost certainly due to its maturation. Growing pains are somewhat inevitable, especially for a company blooming quite as boldly as this one. Subaru has eight consecutive record-breaking years under its belt in North America, and it hasn’t dealt with a singly monthly sales decline since 2011.

The company expects this sales trend to continue well into next year, Yoshinaga told Automotive News, even as he acknowledged that U.S. market demand “has already peaked out.”

Still, the demand has forced Subaru to increase production wherever it can.

“The background of our current situation is Subaru’s rapid sales growth that has caused strain to our U.S. production and to our suppliers,” Yoshinaga said. “Having recalls like we’ve had this year, we realize the strong need to strengthen our effort to ensure high quality.”

The infamous Takata airbag inflator callbacks affecting nearly every major automaker didn’t help, but there was also an increase in Subie-centric recalls this year. Subaru issued a callback of 77,000 Tribeca SUVs due to an unsafe hood latch in February. May had Subaru finding around 48,500 Legacy sedans and Outback wagons that needed problematic steering columns fixed. The biggest recall happened last month, when the company said 100,000 of its turbocharged motors ran the risk of failure and even starting a potential fire.

Consumer Reports seemed more interested in faulting the company for the introduction of buggy electronics and safety systems.

“They were a little slow to adopt the advanced electronics,” Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports, told Automotive News. “They slipped from being excellent to quite good. I’m sure they can recover.”

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  • Mister steve Mister steve on Nov 14, 2016

    The only Subaru plant outside of Japan is in Lafayette, Indiana. That plant has been open since the late '80s, and produced mostly the Legacy and Outback. Shortly after GM divested itself of its Subaru investment, Toyota bought into the company. The Lafayette plant produced the Camry from 2007 until this year (70,000 units in 2015), when they ended Toyota production there in order to meet Subaru demand. That plant should have been able to transition to higher Subaru production numbers without a loss in quality. I wonder if Subaru is maybe playing the blame game a bit here. Are the defects engineering/design or production related? For my own little anecdata, I've owned two Subies, both purchased new. My '95 Legacy wagon, built in Indiana, was a strong runner and had absolutely no oil consumption issues with its 2 liter engine. On the down side, it ate brake rotors and had rust issues starting in its 8th year. I replaced the Legacy with a 2004 Forester, built in Japan. Starting at about 60k miles the 2.5 engine leaked oil at the head. From hanging around the brand forums, it was clear this was a common issue that the company wouldn't acknowledge. That Subaru was my last.

  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Nov 14, 2016

    Quality problems are nothing new at Subaru who are they kidding? Oil consumption. Buggy electronics. Head gasket and oil leaks. Failed wheels bearings even with low mileage. Have even seen many transmission failures on 2002-2005 examples. Not saying they are horrible cars by any means but I have had far fewer issues by far than most of my friends and colleagues with my last 3 Impalas which went way past 100K with only minor issues and maintenance.

  • Peeryog OK , my fault. But there were a number of inadvertent scatalogical references in the original post. To which, having the intellectual maturity of a 12 year old boy, I snickered.
  • Ajla People that buy a new Silverado or Sierra without a V8 are like the people that get salmon at Peter Luger.
  • MKizzy The Mazda 6 wagon needs to be brought here pronto. Sexy looks aside, it would look less out of place in Mazda's CUV lineup vs the sedan, and since Mazda wants to go "premium," wagon customers tend to be the most affluent (if Daimer-Benz is to be believed). My second choice is the attractive Hyundai i40 wagon, which would replace the defunct VW Sportwagon in the small/mid size wagon niche.
  • Carlson Fan GM needs new leadership. A 9000lb off-road vehicle???? Don't get that thing stuck in a remote area.Imagine if they had brought back the iconic K5 Blazer name and built something to compete with the Wrangler like Ford did with the Bronco. They could have offered that with an electric power train in addition to the gas models. Ford may have some quality issues right now but whoever is steering that ship knows what they are doing. The Bronco & Maverick where both brilliant ideas.
  • Carlson Fan "But it does give General Motors an opportunity to dangle a diesel in front of the faces of consumers and presumably one that yields better gas mileage than the 6.2-liter V8 they’d otherwise be buying."I'll take the 6.2 thank you. The diesel offers some advantages over gas if you use the truck for towing, lower total cost of ownership isn't one of them. I'll add in the gas engine offers better long term reliability & cold weather performance if you live where it snows like me.