Takao Saito, Chairman, President
and CEO of Subaru of America, Inc., talks
about his vision, plans and strategies.
Can you share with
us your plans for Subaru over the next few years?
Our Symmetrical AWD system gives us a great basis for the future. We believe it is the most sophisticated system in the market, and it gives Subaru the opportunity to position itself as a premium brand. By premium brand, I do not mean luxury car. I mean we will have the number one vehicle in value and performance in every segment in which we compete.
Product has the first priority. We just launched the Impreza WRX STi. We will be making other model-line changes this year. In 2004, we will introduce the next generation Legacy and Outback, and, in 2005, Subaru will bring an all-new, seven-passenger vehicle to market. This will be a car-based AWD vehicle with many attributes of an SUV.
Our sales goal is 250,000 vehicles annually by 2006. This is about 1.5 percent of the U.S. automotive market. We will remain a niche marketer, with the flexibility to react to the needs of our customers and target our products accordingly.
Subaru has been known for vehicles like Legacy and Outback. Now Subaru also offers performance-oriented vehicles like Impreza WRX. Why are you introducing these kinds of vehicles?
Subaru decided in 1995 to concentrate on our strongest value to the customer, which was our long history and experience with all-wheel drive. From that point on, we would sell only AWD vehicles. To this day, Subaru is the only car company with 100-percent AWD models. This was our crossover strategy, which means our vehicles have the ride and handling of a car, but the capabilities of a truck or SUV. This has been very successful.
However, other manufacturers saw our success and now produce vehicles with a similar concept. We cannot achieve our goals with only this kind of vehicle, especially with increased competition from companies far larger than we are. We needed another market category that also utilized our AWD system. That led to our driving performance strategy.
In the United States, Subaru established its reputation with crossover characteristics such as durability, reliability and all-weather safety. However, in many parts of the world, Subaru is famous as a performance vehicle. Subaru won the Manufacturers title in the World Rally Championship three times and has been very successful in other automotive performance activities. We decided to bring this strength to the United States.
Two years ago, we introduced the WRX, and it opened another market to us. So our corporate strategy rests on two pillars: Crossover, which will continue to account for the majority of sales, and Driving Performance, which will offer special models to the driving enthusiast.
Will Subaru continue this performance development?
Yes. The STi version of the WRX came next, and, with 300 horsepower, it is a very special car. For the 2004 model year, we will offer Turbo versions of Forester and Baja. Turbo will be offered on Legacy and Outback in the near future, so the full line will have a driving performance option. Subaru customers can choose the approach that best suits them.
Do you have plans to enhance the Subaru owner experience?
As a premium brand, it is our obligation to be top class in the way we deal with our owners. Our corporate initiative, The Subaru Difference, focuses our activities. The Stellar Performers Program certifies dealers for high levels of customer handling. The Signature Facility Program ensures that our customers have a quality place in which to do business. We are constantly communicating with owners, training dealers and analyzing needs.
We also want owners to have extra benefits. We offer a Subaru MasterCard® that can help offset the costs of ownership. We have Subaru insurance plans with special owner advantages. Many of our marketing partners offer discounts, elite status or free memberships to Subaru owners. And, of course, Drive magazine, written and distributed exclusively for Subaru owners.
In every area of owner relationships, our final target is to be number one. We know we need the support of a loyal owner body to meet our goals, and we plan to work hard to earn that support.