Subaru North America CEO Thomas Doll On A Challenging Auto Industry

So maybe you’re in the market to buy a car or a small SUV or a large SUV, such as the Ascent, which is on the larger side, or the Outback and Forester which are more mid sizes, or the Crosstrek which is in the small CUV category or a sedan with our Impreza or our Legacy lines or even in our performance lines with WRX and STI and BRZ. We’re hopeful that somebody will consider us. They may not buy us but at least we’re being considered. And that’s been nice over the years because as we’ve grown, in order to be able to grow, we need to get considered in order for them to even think about buying Subaru. Remember, we’re still small, right? This year, we’re hoping to get like 4% market share. Last year we were about a 3.8% market share. Back around 2006/2007, we were essentially about a 1% market share. So we’ve grown and other people have seen what we’ve done and are paying notice to what it is we’re doing.

There are a lot of questions in the auto industry right now, especially thanks to this trade war and the increasing electrification of cars. What are Subaru’s biggest challenges?

Well, there’s no question that there’s a lot of balls up in the air. With trade, you don’t know what potentially could happen there. I’m an optimist though. I think things always will resolve themselves in the best way possible. In terms of electrification, when the rules were put into place a number of years ago, everybody thought gas prices would be significantly higher than where they are today. Who knew back in 2012 that the United States was going to go in this shale oil thing, where we’re essentially an exporter of oil and we’re essentially energy self-sufficient? Nobody predicted that.

What’s happening, to be frank with you, customers aren’t adopting the electrical vehicles as fast as we all thought. And so it’s kind of delayed and we’re kind of coming to a point on it because under the regulations, beginning in 2022, 2023, 2024, really through 2025, and in particular in California and some of the states, a certain percentage of our vehicle sales has to be electric vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions in order to be able to comply with the regulations. Not just us but other manufacturers are concerned about as we get to those key points, and we are still a couple of years out so something could happen, right, where the market tips but so far it hasn’t really tipped in any great numbers. The market is still 3% or 4% of electric or hybrid-type vehicles, right? And I think people thought by this point it would be much greater numbers. But everybody has products that are coming that are going to appeal. To be frank with you, the market hasn’t adapted. It’s because it’s costly, right? The technology is costly.

Until you get to a certain level of economies of scale, it’s going to remain costly. So the key is how to cross the chasm, if you will, bridge the gap until enough customers are willing to adopt it. And other things too. I think the infrastructure is not there. The charging infrastructure, the time it takes to charge. If you’re driving across country, it’s easy in a car now, right? You pull into the gas station, and you gas up, and you go in five or seven minutes. But who wants to wait around a few hours for an 80% charge reading to be on your way. These things still have to kind of work themselves out and work themselves through but, yeah, there’s a lot of challenges in the car business right now for sure.

As we approach a new decade, what are some of your long-term goals?

Our goal is to try to get to a 5% market share. So we think the existing products that we have along with new products that are coming up, as we get beyond the early ’20s…once we get into the early 2020s and the mid-2020s, can get us to that level of sales. Beyond that, we’d certainly would love to be able to grow further but that’s going take some other things to happen. But we definitely think we can get to a 5% market share, which in a 17-million market would put us somewhere around 800,000 to 830,000 vehicles, somewhere in that range, is where we think our sweet spot is for our company and our brand.