New Subaru chief aims to shore up profits, sales — and trust — with new plan

TOKYO — Newly appointed Subaru President Tomomi Nakamura has unveiled a fresh five-year business plan that aims to boost U.S. market share, stoke an 18 percent increase in global sales, shore up flagging profitability and invest more in next-generation technologies.

And crucially, the new roadmap calls for restoring trust in the brand at home.

Nakamura, 59, took the helm from departing chief Yasuyuki Yoshinaga in June, following a vehicle inspection scandal in Japan that hurt the brand’s image at home. The backlash was contained in the Japanese carmaker’s backyard because the lapses didn’t affect cars for export.

But in unveiling the new plan July 10, Nakamura pledged to prioritize cultivating a company that “does the right thing in the right way.”

Indeed, he dubbed the blueprint STEP, with the T standing for trust. The other letters come from speed, engagement and peace of mind.

“We are committed to changing the corporate culture,” Nakamura said. “We will take firm measures so that we will become a company that will never repeat such a mistake.”

The plan runs through the fiscal year ending March 31, 2026, and Nakamura said it will keep small but expanding Subaru competitive in the rapidly changing international landscape.

“The automotive industry is now in a tumultuous time. Subaru’s fast growth in recent years has come to highlight our challenges,” Nakamura said. “The question is how we, as a small-scale company, will be able to survive in this big-changing area.”

Nakamura aims to lift global sales 18 percent to 1.3 million vehicles in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2026, from the 1.1 million units it expects to sell in the current fiscal year.

In North America, Subaru’s biggest and most important market, the all-wheel-drive niche player targets a 20 percent sales increase to 920,000 vehicles, from 770,000 forecast this year.

Subaru wants to lift its U.S. market share to 5 percent through strengthening the retail network and increasing penetration in sunbelt states where it has traditionally been weaker.

Through June, Subaru’s U.S. market share stood at 3.7 percent. U.S. sales climbed 5.9 percent to 322,860 vehicles in the first six months, outpacing the overall market’s 1.9 percent increase.

Among other initiatives unveiled under STEP:

  • Introducing a new hybrid vehicle in the early 2020s
  • Launching a new “global strategic SUV” in the early 2020s
  • Evolving the Dynamic X Solid design language into a “bolder” expression
  • Enhancing sporty models, include the STI tuner line
  • Delivering Level 2 autonomous highway driving around 2020 and higher levels by 2024
  • Offering connectivity in 80 percent of new vehicles in major markets, such as U.S., by 2022.

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