You read on Friday how Subaru exceeded its U.S. sales goal for 2019 by 117 vehicles, pushing its American volume to the highest point in the automaker’s history — up 2.9 percent from 2018, and more than 200 percent greater than its tally just a decade prior. A hard thing to achieve in a market that cooled off in 2019.
Subaru doesn’t see last year as a high water mark, however. For 2020, the brand has even loftier expectations, but everything will have to fall into place for it to happen.
Subaru was one of the few automakers experiencing growth going into the Great Recession. When the financial crisis struck in earnest, Subaru’s volume briefly dipped to pre-recession levels before resuming its climb. Thanks largely to an enviable public image and desirable lineup, Subaru’s annual deliveries tripled between 2009 and 2018 inside the United States.
However Subaru’s quality rankings have lapsed in its quest to meet elevated demand. There has been a surge in recalls for the brand and some unsavory claims coming from the factory. According to internal documents seen by Automotive News, one of the primary reasons for this was due to rampant supply chain issues. The papers indicate that nearly half of Subaru’s suppliers were recently operating at quality levels below the company’s internal targets. Subaru is currently overhauling its own production processes and working with suppliers to improve quality and avoid developing a poor reputation with customers.
After serving as head honcho of a brand that’s enjoyed 10 consecutive years of sales increases in the United States, Subaru of America CEO Tomomi Nakamura is headed to Japan to work the same kind of magic on the automaker’s global business.
On Friday, Nakauma was tapped as the next president of Subaru Corporation, the multi-armed conglomerate once known as Fuji Heavy Industries. He’s served in that role since 2014. In his place, Subaru of America president Tom Doll takes the biggest office at Subaru of America HQ, making him the first American to hold the position since Subaru took over the U.S. division in the waning days of disco.
It’s now Doll’s responsibility to see that Subaru’s hot streak continues, even in this era of cooling demand and technological disruption.
Automotive advertising has always been an amalgamation of information and hype. Carmakers use commercials to inform the public of what makes their model different and new, while simultaneously promising an intangible goodness. Mid-century ads were less specific, reassuring prospective customers of a nondescript better way of life, but modern marketing has become much more focused. If ads are to be believed, buying a car today means purchasing more than just the hardware its comprised of — you’re buying an identity.
I’m reminded of a collection of car commercials from the 1960s that essentially vowed to nerds that, if they bought a specific car, they would be pursued endlessly by attractive women. It was a bold and extremely unsubtle way to kick off the new trend.
come a long way evolved slightly since then, but the concept of identity-focused advertising is more popular than ever. In fact, Subaru attributes a large portion of its own success to marketing that closely associates the brand with good values, family, lovable mutts, and the great outdoors.
It seems enthusiasts aren’t the only folks looking for a little more performance from the rear-wheel drive Subaru BRZ. Subaru of America COO Tom Doll would also like a little more performance — in terms of sales — from the sports car co-developed with Toyota.
Thankfully, he sees the best way to increase interest in the BRZ is to give us what we want.
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