When an automotive journalist buys a new car, a lot of questions follow. What did you get? Why? How much? Really?
So, here goes. I take delivery on a 2014 Subaru Impreza. Not the WRX. Just the 2.0. And as I park it next to the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI, I can’t help but ponder these two products, brands, companies, and their outlooks in the U.S.
Why the Subaru? The combination of all-wheel drive and good fuel economy is unmatched. Resale, reliability, and safety ratings—superb. Highway fuel economy is rated 36 mpg, and that is about what I will average on the highway with the Jetta throughout the year but without the premium paid for diesel. All-wheel drive seems like a good idea, since Southeast Michigan winters now seem to be rivaling those of northern Norway for relentlessness.
This is my fourth Subaru, and only the used one I bought ever disappointed. Lesson learned. Never be the third owner of a car. Subaru is best known for its all-wheel drive, but I have also found the cars to be beautifully rugged and sturdy, and they don’t cost a fortune to fix when off warranty.
While I hate to admit that advertising might affect me or my buying decision, Subaru has been on a roll, in part, I believe, because of a rare focus on keeping its communication with customers and prospects as simple as its product line.
One recent ad that’s gone fairly viral features dogs driving a Subaru. It doesn’t tell you much about the car, but it sure makes a dog lover smile. That’s good for Subaru, because it has about the highest percentage of dog owners in its customer base in the industry. The slogan reads, “Confidence in Motion.” But it also slips the word “love” into each ad.
Subaru has long made its product line logical and focused: Legacy, Outback, Forester, Impreza/WRX. Flanking them now are the Crosstrek and the BRZ. Yes, the Tribeca was a fiasco. That SUV, we hear, will be replaced by a variation of the new three-row Toyota Highlander as part of the co-development agreement between the two companies, but parent company Fuji Heavy Industries is not confirming it.
The numbers: Subaru sold 424,683 vehicles in 2013, its fifth annual sales record in a row and a 12% sales gain. The company sees 500,000 sales by the end of 2015.
Now, let’s look at my Impreza’s driveway mate. VW is the top-selling diesel brand in the United States, with 96,000 sold last year. It markets nine product lines but has no legitimate compact crossover. The Tiguan was not designed for the U.S., and the company is losing out on one of the most important segments in the business.
VW’s numbers and issues? Its sales were down 6.9% last year to 407, 704 (less than Subaru’s). That is a long way from the preposterous 800,000 sales the company often projects as its goal to hit by 2018. In comparison with Subaru, Volkswagen is a company that lacks focus. The mid-size Passat-based CUV is still a couple of years away. VW sells the CC here but has no legit compact crossover. And yet, the automaker blows an estimated $1 billion on Bugatti?
If Volkswagen wants to succeed and be profitable in the United States, it needs to have more focus. Does VW really need to continue to blow money on Bugatti and Lamborghini? Stop talking about sales targets by 2018. Just stop. Instead, focus the organization on quality ratings and resale values. Cut models that aren’t adding to the enterprise in a meaningful way, i.e. the CC and the Beetle. Concentrate on making the Jetta, the Passat and the forthcoming compact crossover hardcore competitors to Honda’s Civic, Accord, and CR-V and, now, Subaru’s Impreza, Legacy, and Outback. Anything that distracts from that goal will only hurt, not help, Volkswagen.