EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 10, 2013

Subaru is flavored for our local tastes

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — Subaru is like a great microbrewery making fabulous beer that stirs passion and loyalty from in-the-know fans but that still pales in size next to Budweiser, Coors or even Corona.

Around here we might miss that fact about Subaru’s size, because we live in Subaru land where a lot of those loyal and passionate fans reside. In my immediate family we own three, among six drivers in three households. A neighbor has two. You’ll run into a few during any drive to the store to buy Snickers and coffee. You’ll see even more if you make that snack run during one of the mucky days like we saw last week, with on-again/off-again snow, sleet, rain and frozen puddles. That’s because Subaru owners tend to trust their cars more during inclement driving, when road conditions tempt you to just stay home.

Subaru drivers have learned that the smart engineering and all-wheel-drive traction of the Japanese company’s passenger cars and wagons give the vehicles poise and sure-footed stability that exceeds the abilities even of many brawnier models. During snow storms I’ve watched my wife, Donna, in her doughty yet sleek Subaru Impreza, motor past four-wheel-drive pickups and big SUVs that had spun off the road. After driving a famously rugged, high-traction non-Subaru during snowfall in ski country, family-member Scott recently commented that he felt the brute’s tires occasionally slide. For foul roads he preferred his Subaru Baja, Scott said. And that’s a model Subaru stopped making about seven years ago, so it’s missing the company’s more recent advances.

Experiences like that are a large part of what makes Subaru drivers so passionate and true to the brand. It also explains why so many of Subaru’s fanatical followers live in our Merrimack Valley and New England in general. We see so much lousy weather.

“It’s well known that Subarus sell better in the snow states,” concurred Aaron Singer, owner of Singer Subaru in Plaistow, N.H. That includes the Rocky Mountain region, where drivers add altitude to similar winter challenges.

Together we take it as a bonus that Subarus are known to be rugged and durable, with built-to-last construction that gives them some of the highest resale values in the car business. Those qualities win ample recognition from third-party rating groups, too. Singer pointed out that in the current, April issue of Consumer Reports, Subaru is rated second in overall vehicle quality, behind only the high-flying luxury brand Lexus. The publication lists four Subaru models as best in their class, and it puts a “recommend” seal on six Subarus.

The brand’s snow-fighting qualities, especially superior traction and toughness, also make it a favorite of outdoor adventure junkies. Singer noted that the accessories he sees on many of his customers’ cars in Plaistow – the racks, carriers, hitches and such – belong to people who spend recreational time climbing, hiking, skiing or cycling in the mountains, or kayaking on rivers, for example.

So to us, it hardly seems surprising that Subaru can claim more consistent success than any other outfit in the U.S. auto industry. Just two months ago, the company closed 2012 as the fourth straight year in which it set a new record for the number of cars it sold in America. It is the only car make that has seen sales grow in each of the last five years – which include recession years when some car brands saw big drops in sales.

But for all of its bounding success, Subaru remains a small car company on the national scene. It sold about 56,000 vehicles all across American in its record-setting 2012. That’s just 2.5 percent of the total new models sold by the car business moved. In other parts of America, you don’t encounter nearly as many Subarus as we do. The company makes only all-wheel-drive models – except for the rear-drive BRZ sports car, but that’s a low-selling specialty car. In areas like the no-snow south and the Sun Belt, the brand’s premier feature, its four-wheel traction, just isn’t as essential.

The contrast in popularity is striking. Industry figures show that, nationally, Subaru’s 2012 sales performance put it in 12th place among auto brands for sales in the U.S. But here in our northeast, the Subaru brand finished in the much higher, number-five spot. Only the Toyota, Honda, Ford and Nissan brands, in that order, outsold it.

Singer expects the company to continue to gain, because its new models continue to hit the mark.

“Everything fits with what people are looking for,” he said.

For recent examples, the re-designed Subaru Impreza, launched at the end of 2011, continues to sell as fast as the model arrives, Singer said. The XV Crosstrek was introduced in 2012 as a high-riding, battle-ready wagon that is based on the Impreza platform.

“The Crosstrek is crazy popular because it’s good looking, gets great gas mileage, and it’s priced right,” he stated.

Next in line is the newly redone, 2014 Subaru Forester – a wagon as ready for the woods as its name implies. The official introduction date is in May, Singer said. But he expects to see the next-generation Forester begin arriving this month.

“It looks like a home run,” he said.

That will be both good news and bad for the dealership.

The good news, of course, will be another increase in the brand’s popularity. But the bad angle is the ongoing struggle to keep cars in stock.

With customers at the door, “when a new shipment of cars is coming in, we fell like we’ll be fine. But then a couple of weeks later, we’re all our of cars again,” said Singer.

It’s like when the keg of Sam Adams or Harpoon runs dry. You can always get a Bud or a Coors instead. But a lot of us will just wait for the bartender to tap a fresh batch of the good stuff.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2013 Subaru models Impreza Compact sedan and hatchback Starting $18,665 WRX Compact sport sedan and hatchback Starting $26,565 XV Crosstrek Compact crossover wagon Starting $22,790 Legacy Mid-size sedan Starting $21,065 Forester Crossover wagon Starting $22,090 Outback crossover wagon starting $24,590 Tribeca Crossover wagon Starting $33,390 BRZ Subcompact sports car Starting $26,280