Is Subaru Flying Too Close to the Sun?

XV Crosstrek Zoom

In Greek mythology, Icarus attempted to flee the Island of Crete using wings made of feathers and wax. Despite Daedalus’s warnings, Icarus flew higher and higher until the heat of the sun melted the wax binding his wings, and he fell from the sky. The story warns against hubris, arrogance, and how care and precaution remain paramount when moving onward and upward. Thousands of years after the story of Icarus was first told, is Subaru now threatening to fly too high?

The ubiquity of Outbacks and Crosstreks in New England and the Rockies belies Subaru’s position as one of Japan’s lowest-volume automakers. Subaru has become a favorite of shoppers in snowy regions thanks to its commitment to all-wheel drive and reliability.

Those loyal shoppers have helped the little carmaker blossom, enjoy 8 straight years of growth, and aim to surpass 1 million cars sold, worldwide, this year. An historically reliable company (Subaru of America has been assembling Toyota Camrys since 2007, for Pete’s sake), Subaru has always been a safe bet for shoppers in the market for a worry-free, weekend-getaway rig.

However, as anyone who has hit the gym too hard, too fast knows, increased production has been accompanied by some uncomfortable growing pains. Buried below Buick’s surprising success, for the first time since 2010, Subaru fell out of Consumer Reports’ Annual Brand Reliability Survey’s top 10. What’s more, Subaru slipped from being a “more reliable” brand to simply a “reliable” one, and the enthusiast favorite WRX and WRX STI sports cars are no longer recommended by Consumer Reports.

Speaking with Automotive News, Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, the CEO of Subaru’s parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries, admitted increased production has introduced some weaknesses in quality assurance, explaining:

The background of our current situation is Subaru’s rapid sales growth that has caused strain to our U.S. production and to our suppliers… Having recalls like we’ve had this year, we realize the strong need to strengthen our effort to ensure high quality.

The Takata airbag recall has certainly created a hurdle for Subaru, but other, Subaru-specific issues have also resulted from its increased production. Yoshinaga went on to explain that the quality issues stem from the Japanese manufacturing process, rather than the U.S.-based assembly in Indiana. Problems arising in the U.S. market were found to take up to twice as long to remedy as those occurring in Japan.

To remedy the situation, the company has enlisted Masashi Takahashi as a technical advisor to Fuji Heavy Industries USA. Takahashi is responsible for improving reporting between Subaru’s dealership network in the United States and headquarters in Japan.

Sales figures this year indicate the U.S. auto market’s post-recession honeymoon period may be coming to a close. As more and more automakers are reporting declines in year-over-year vehicle sales, Subaru has soldiered on as a positive story, having failed to register a monthly sales decline since 2011. If that trend is going to continue, shoppers will need to remain as confident in a Subaru’s reliability as they are in its all-wheel-drive traction.

Are growing sales putting Subaru’s reputation for reliability at risk?

-Matt Smith

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