02-10-2008, 03:12 PM
*** Banned ***
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Connecticut, USA
02 WRX Sedan
Interview: Subaru National Dealer Advisory Board Chairman
Subaru dealers' hot button: Profitability
Factory gets praise for ad program, price repositioning
February 10, 2008 - 2:00 pm ET
Phil Porter sees the fortunes of the Subaru brand from two perspectives. One of his two stores is in Connecticut, in one of the U.S. markets where Subaru is well-known. The other is in Florida, where Subaru is duking it out with other less well-known import brands for recognition.
"Any store reaps the benefits of having a lot of units in operation," Porter said. "In Florida, Subaru is still establishing itself. It takes some elbow grease to develop a brand."
Porter calls Florida home, but it was the Connecticut store that started him as a dealer principal. He entered the auto business in the early 1980s working in the credit department of Jim Moran's large-volume JM Pontiac in Hollywood, Fla.
Porter later worked in Toyota stores but became involved with the Torrington, Conn., Subaru store as a manager with an option to own. He exercised his option to buy in 1994. Six years later, he opened his second store and moved back to Florida to operate it.
This month, Porter begins his two-year stint as chairman of the Subaru National Dealer Advisory Board. He talked with Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell.
Phil Porter What new product does Subaru most need?
Dealer since: 1994
Dealerships: Subaru of Jacksonville, Jacksonville, Fla.; Center Subaru, Torrington, Conn.
Average monthly sales: 90 new, 90 used
Dealer council's top concern: Maintaining profit margins
Quote: "We've had conversations about diesels for a couple of years. We would like to have them right away."
We've had conversations with the factory about alternative-fuel vehicles. We've talked about diesel in the U.S. market. We think that would mean a lot to our customers. I know it's work to get a diesel engine into the United States. We've also had conversations about an entry-level-priced car, and I believe that conversation is ongoing.
Fuji Heavy Industries CEO Ikuo Mori recently told us that Subaru moved upscale too quickly — going after upscale customers instead of the more traditional outdoorsy customer. Does the dealer council agree with that assessment?
The whole premium conversation goes hand in hand with the image of quality, and Subaru builds a quality product.
Customers will decide whether or not we're premium based on the performance of the vehicles they buy. I don't know that our desire was ever to move to premium just for the sake of pricing. The real conversation is about quality.
Mori also said the factory wants to increase the number of U.S. dealerships from 600 today to about 630. Are dealers enthusiastic about this?
The manufacturer is looking to add dealers in opportunity areas — the Sun Belt, for example — and I do think there is opportunity there.
Subaru of Europe will get diesel engines. When will Subaru of America?
It's really driven by emission requirements in the United States. It's very necessary for them to get a diesel into Europe in order to compete. But I'm confident the U.S. market will follow fairly quickly.
Last year Subaru reduced its sticker prices to stir sales. What kind of results did that have?
Subaru calls that the price repositioning plan, and it continues to tweak it. We're trying to drive up the value-cost relationship. Subaru competes against other quality import brands — Toyota, Nissan, Mazda. It has had an impact.
How important is it for dealers to have meetings with top Fuji officials? Do you feel they hear you and understand the American marketplace?
Our communications have been very good. The dealer advisory people have the chance to meet with Fuji Heavy executives a couple of times a year.
There is open communication by letter. Of course, as dealers, there are some things that we ask for that we'd like to see tomorrow.
Well, we've had conversations about diesels for a couple of years. We would like to have them right away. Instead of tomorrow, I believe Mr. Mori recently announced that it will be another five years for the U.S. market. You'd expect it would be sooner than that. Tomorrow would be perfect.