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A Dealer’s Take on Why Subaru Ate Volvo’s Lunch

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Recently, yours had an interesting discussion with a longtime ADLX reader. Our conversation drifted to – of all things – Volvo and that I noticed how Subaru has really succeeded in taking away marketshare from the Swedes. As a Subaru salesman, he offered the following personal insights from his experiences with former Volvo owners who have switched to “Subies”. His is a soldier’s account from the frontlines, if you like. The following are excerpts from our conversation. They are his own views and have been published with his permission.

If you look at conquest sales as a percentage of what the conquered brand’s market share is, the most frequently traded cars for Subarus are Audi, Volvo and Honda. These are also frequently cross shopped. Typically the Audi’s and Volvo’s come in with 125K+ on the odo and the dash lit up like a Christmas tree. The owner will tell you how much they loved their Audi/Volvo till it hit 100K and it was in the shop all the time and that it cost $1000 or more for each trip.

As a guy I work with says, it is not [that] Subarus (and Honda, Toyota, Ford and even Chev/GM) don’t break, but no one item is so expensive to fix that it would be cheaper to replace the car. Except turbochargers.

We’ve kicked around as to why Volvo lost their market to Subaru and have come up with a few thoughts. The traditional Volvo buyer was a value buyer and the brand characteristics played to that. When Volvo, in a search for greater profits, positioned themselves as a cheaper alternative to MB/BMW, they de-emphasized value and played up luxury. Safety, became available through out the industry. They raised the prices.

Lastly, Volvo was slow to recognize the appeal of AWD and when they did they responded with a too finicky system. One of the first questions Volvo owners ask when considering an Outback is, “if I need to replace one tire, do I have to replace them all?” And “if I don’t, is my warranty voided?”

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BRZZZZZ. Subaru’s Angry New Teen

by Gunnar Heinrich ::: img Subaru ::: 2012 Subaru BRZ

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but car styling has definitely gone mad.

Take a Dodge Charger, for instance. It has the face of veteran boxer; all brooding with pent-up rage. Then you look at an Infiniti M45 and get the sense that if it were a man, he’d have sailed past his midlife crisis and straight into psychosis. Same goes for the BMW M5. And all the 2012 Kias and Hyundais, too. They all look like they suffer from some terrible chemical/hormonal imbalance.

Perhaps all this automotive anger on display is reflective of poor pay for design departments. Or maybe the national mood. Or maybe the way Venus and Mercury now appear so close together in the night’s sky. Whatever the case, the angry design theme that has taken over the industry has drifted over to the last place you’d ever expect to find it: Subaru.

At first, Subaru’s BRZ is a bit of a surprise. But then we’ve needed something hot and fast from the Japanese car company that built its reputation on all-wheel drive rally cars. In the past decade, Subaru’s spent a lot of time parlaying that success into serving up soft, dependable country wagons for people who used to drive Volvos. That means the BRZ is less about the ability to manage a washed out dirt road in Vermont as it is the ability to show up anything with Mods in Beantown. And it shows.

They borrowed plenty of design aspects from other cars with athletic credentials/pretentions. There’s a little bit of Lexus LF-A to the profile. Some Scion. A lot of Acura RSX. The huge front grille reminds you of Volkswagen’s IROC concept (2006) and those funny cleaved taillights seem to owe something to the previous BMW Z4. All possible design sources that when combined could suggest rage on four wheels.

That said, this is Subaru and so that means they couldn’t quite go all Motown on us. There’s enough softness in there to suggest that the BRZ is like a really angry teen going through that phase in life where he hates everyone and everything but he still loves his mom and dad. Give him space, you think. He’ll come round.

You just can’t take it too seriously. And that’s thanks to a tall profile and soft features like a hood that seems to flow softly from one wheel well arch to the next. Sure it has squinty Xenon lit eyes and tall rims meant for fast cornering but, the overall look of the car suggests that as aggressive as it wants to be it will likely be a very practical daily driver.

Inside, it’s a predictable montage of Nike inspired graphics. Loud contrast stitching. Metallic surfacing. Lots of buttons and electronics. It’s definitely built for those who have maximized their laptimes at Laguna Seca on their PS3.

So then, if the styling has any relationship to the way the BRZ performs (it’s said to have a Boxer engine built for balance) and it does the A-to-B-to-C-to-D-to-A frugally and without much complaint and it cares for the driver with just a moderate degree of comfort, we could have, finally, an angrier yet more civilized replacement for the WRX.

What kid who’s just got his license won’t want one?