Subaru's Short-term Plan? Invade the South, Capture Hearts

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
subarus short term plan invade the south capture hearts

To think of the Subaru brand is to think of the misty Pacific Northwest, the shimmering peaks of the Rockies, or the pastoral farms and rolling hills of New England. This is Subaru Country — where farmer’s markets and mountain biking awaits.

Well, Subaru head office wants to put an end to regional popularity, rolling out a five-year plan that targets the American South in a bid to boost North American sales by 20 percent.

Freshly minted Subaru President Tomomi Nakamura announced the automaker’s strategy (“STEP”) in Tokyo this week. While some of the initiatives involve rebuilding trust in its home market — where a vehicle inspection controversy devoured some of the public’s goodwill towards the brand — the rest are all about sales, sales, sales. Subaru’s aiming for an 18 percent increase in global sales over the time frame, with the U.S. playing a big role.

Subaru’s five-year window doesn’t start immediately; this newest planning period closes March 31st, 2026.

“The automotive industry is now in a tumultuous time. Subaru’s fast growth in recent years has come to highlight our challenges,” Nakamura said, as reported by Automotive News. “The question is how we, as a small-scale company, will be able to survive in this big-changing area.”

Besides bulking up its sales, Subaru plans to belatedly boost its investment in electrification. While the automaker plans to return a hybrid Crosstrek to the market for 2019, a couple of years after the previous, non plug-in version kicked the bucket, it was only made possible by a partnership with hybrid-heavy Toyota. A second Subaru hybrid should appear in the early 2020s, with an electric vehicle bowing in 2021.

At the same time, Subaru plans to tap into the rising thirst for SUVs. A dedicated “global strategic SUV” should launch around the same time as the aforementioned hybrid, apparently supplementing the new-for-2018 Ascent three-row crossover. Meanwhile, expect bolder styling. STI models will become extra fearsome. A cash infusion of $1.36 billion will target quality improvements.

“The quality of our company has failed to keep pace with our quantitative growth so far,” Nakamura said. “We will focus on improving the quality so that qualitative growth will outpace quantitative growth. That’s how I see growth as a brand.”

As for the brand’s Southern product PR plan, few details exist. But making inroads in that market is absolutely key for its global sales goals — North America counts for more than two-thirds of Subaru’s volume. Currently, the brand enjoys a market share of 3.7 percent, but Nakamura wants to ratchet that figure up to 5 percent by 2026. That means a volume of 920,000 vehicles.

The last fiscal year saw 671,000 vehicles sold in North America, with 770,000 estimated for the current year. The old five-year plan pegged 800,000 vehicles by early 2021.

Unlike some targets floated by rival automakers in recent years, Subaru’s uninterrupted North American sales climb over the past decade makes this plan seem doable. Sales rose 5.9 percent in the U.S. over the first half of 2018.

[Images: Subaru]

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  • TW5 TW5 on Jul 10, 2018

    The South is an easy market for them to gain marketshare. Life is relatively easy down here so people have vacation homes off the beaten path, plus the population density is lower and plenty of people have relatives in the boonies. Subaru will probably be keen to take on the light truck marketplace by touting fuel economy and safety, but they should continue aiming for car drivers. People in the South aren't going to give up their trucks or their BoF SUVs. They will give up the family car for something with comparable gas mileage that allows them to fish, hunt, or navigate unmaintained county roads on the way to grandma's house.

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    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jul 10, 2018

      @bullnuke Nice. I drove a WRX and an STI in my recent shopping. They were fun but with respect to the power delivery they were throwback (like nothing...nothing...And there is the turbo). I liked that but money wise there were so many options there and I went another direction. I do wish you could get that powertrain without all of the body kit.

  • Rengaw Rengaw on Jul 10, 2018

    I consider myself a car enthusiast, and I am most enthusiastic driving my underpowered four cylinder Subie over rough roads at a brisk pace appreciating that high ground clearance and long travel suspension.

  • 3SpeedAutomatic Auto insurance renewal every six months. Ten year old car, good driving record, own my own home, excellent credit score, no teenagers on the policy, etc, etc, etc.Yet, I pay thru the nose!!!!!Adds on the morning news brag about $500k settlements.I paid less when I lived in New York State.
  • Jim Bonham Full EVs are not for everyone, they cannot meet all needs. Hybrids do a much better job of providing the benefits of EVs without most of the drawbacks. I have a hybrid sedan with plenty of room, plus all the bells and whistles. It has 360 hp, AWD, does 0-60 in just over 5 sec.(the instant torque is a real benefit), and I get 29 mpg, average. NOT driven lightly. I bought it used for $25k.Sure, it's a little heavier because of the battery, motor, etc., but not nearly as much as a full EV. The battery is smaller/lighter/cheaper and both the alternator and starter motor are eliminated since the motor assumes those functions. It's cool to watch the charge guage show I'm getting energy back when coasting and/or braking. It's even cooler to drive around part of the time on battery only. It really comes in handy in traffic since the engine turns off and you don't waste fuel idling. With the adaptive cruise control you just let the car slowly inch along by itself.I only wish it were a Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV). Then, I'd have A LOT more EV-only range, along with even more of that instant torque. The battery would be bigger, but still a fraction of the size of a full EV. I could easily go weeks without using much, if any gas (depending upon my commute) IF I plug it in every night. But I don't have to. The gas engine will charge the battery whenever it's needed.It's just not as efficient a way to do it.Electric companies offer special rates for both EVs and PHEVs which lower your operating cost compared to gasoline. They'll even give you a rebate to offset the cost of installing a home charger. You can still get federal (up to $7,500, plus some state) tax credits for PHEVs.What's not to like? My next daily driver will be a PHEV of some kind. Probably a performance-oriented one like the new Dodge Hornet or one of the German Hybrid SUVs. All the benefits, sound, feel, etc., of a gas vehicle along with some electric assist to improve fuel economy, performance, and drivability. None of the inherent EV issues of cost, range anxiety, long charging times, poor charger availability, grid capacity issues, etc. I think most people will eventually catch on to this and go PHEV instead of going full EV. Synthetic, carbon-neutral eFuels, hydrogen engines, and other things will also prevent full EVs from being 100% of the fleet, regardless of what the politicians say. PHEVs can be as "clean" (overall) as full EVs with the right fuels. They're also cheaper, and far more practical, for most people. They can do it all, EVs can't.
  • Ron rufo there is in WaSHINGTON STATE
  • ToolGuy @Chris, your photography rocks.
  • ToolGuy No War for Oli.If you have not ever held a piece of structural honeycomb (composite sandwich) in your own hands, try it.
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