"Subarus just fit Santa Fe like a glove..."
Editor's Note: This is the first article in a series by Devon Jackson about the cars we drive and how they help shape and define Santa Fe's unique culture. What other cars define Santa Fe? Let me know at email@example.com
Whenever I thought of Subaru, the words sturdy, boxy, nondescript, and dependable came to mind. Volvo and utilitarian would also pop up; Volvo because Subarus seemed to be as safe as the self-appointed “safest car in the world,” and utilitarian because Subarus exemplified that workhorse ability to transport people and their stuff from Point A to Point B with the least amount of drama. (Never mind the fact that the WRX sedans, longtime staples of the road-race circuit, were blindingly fast and handled as well as a Porsche or a Lamborghini, Subaru conjured up the wagon first and foremost.)
My image of a Subaru fit in rather well with what others perceived as the car’s personality: if minivans are sensible and Italian sports cars sexy, then the Subaru line was nothing if not reliable. And that quality and image seems to have been its main selling points for almost 60 years, since its five founding Japanese companies united (Subaru means “unite” in Japanese) in 1953 to form Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.
What’s interesting is how that quality/image has played out, especially in Santa Fe, over the past 20 years, but particularly over the past five. Up until very recently, Subarus were widely construed as the car of choice among gay women. And Subaru has marketed to this niche, happily -- focusing advertising campaigns on publications like “Out,” “Advocate,” sponsoring TV shows like “The 'L' Word,” and employing tennis star and gay rights advocate Martina Navratilova as a spokeswoman. Kudos to the Subaru for having done so, and for continuing to do so. (What's funny is that aside from some market research and magazine reader's polls, there’s really no way to verify this social impression—of lesbians preferring and purchasing Subarus over and above a Hummer or a Ford F450 or a Prius or whatever else.)
The Subaru market has mushroomed immensely over the last four years. In the last three years, overall sales in the U.S. have gone up 42 percent, while car sales overall have gone down 28 percent. “And our franchise here,” beams Subaru’s managing director Monte Mitchell (he of the “yesterday was a good day . . . and tomorrow’s gonna be even better” radio spots), “has probably tripled in the past three years.”
It all suggests that more people in general, regardless of gender, sexual preference, age, race, creed, religion, or choice of red, green, or Christmas, are buying Subarus. “Sure, Subaru had great appeal to female drivers and particularly to gay women and the car enjoyed great loyalty and a great following in the gay community, which has been awesome,” says Mitchell, married and a father of two who relocated to Santa Fe from Lubbock, Texas in 2000 and who’s been selling cars for 26 years, “but now there are all sorts of Subaru owners and buyers...regardless of sex or sexual preference or income level.”
Why? “People like them because of the versatility, the roominess, and the all-wheel drive,” enthuses Mitchell. And the all-wheel drive is not just handy in adverse conditions. It’s good for gravel roads, for wet roads. It handles better in all kinds of conditions.” Mitchell himself, as well as his wife, drives an Outback (as well as the Honda CrossTour). “I drive the Outback a lot because people ask me about it. Anytime I’m out there I’m always prospecting—I’m not always selling, but I am always prospecting.”
Subarus are particularly appealing and appropriate to the Santa Fe lifestyle. “Subarus just fit Santa Fe like a glove,” says Mitchell. “When you drive around town you see these older Subarus everywhere. It fits this town, and its drivers, for several reasons: All Subarus are all-wheel drive. The cars are mid-size, they’re a smaller vehicle—so they park easily. It’s also a very green car company.”
And the car’s owners are unusually dedicated. Mitchell already has a couple dozen Subaru enthusiasts lined up for the new 2012 Impreza, which will be arriving in late November and will get 36 MPG—making it the most fuel-efficient all-wheel drive vehicle in the U.S. “I love all three of our car lines but Subaru customers are probably the most loyal,” says Mitchell of his car buyers, whose automobile of choice has been number one on the resale list of all cars the past two years. “They’re more likely to repurchase another Subaru.”
Technologically advanced with multiple microprocessors (a feature Subaru exploited earlier on than most other car companies and probably part of its broadened appeal), Subaru tends to take the If it ain’t broke why fix it approach to manufacturing. “I don’t know know that they’ve been ahead of the curve, but they have stuck to their basics,” says Mitchell. “And they’ve continued to focus on those four core products. But they’ve also improved them lookswise, in sportiness, and in comfort. Plus, they always feature the five-star safety across the board. Simply for your money, there’s not a better value out there.”