Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

NEW ORLEANS – The successful launch of the new-generation Subaru Forester cross/utility vehicle was the sole reason the niche brand posted a 0.3% sales gain in 2008 against an otherwise depressed U.S. market, says Subaru of America Inc. Executive Vice President Tom Doll.

“The dealers are happy and pleased with the performance of the company, our brand and our investment,” Doll tells Ward’s at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention here. “We are hanging in there.”

The Forrester’s launch “was the best-executed launch we’ve had in maybe 10 years,” he says. “Pricing was right; sell-down of the previous model did well; and we were able to position (the CUV) and get good lease payments through our financing source, Chase Auto Finance.”

The marketing also was good. “Retailers embraced the strategy and did what they needed to do to sell the cars. On all levels, it went really well.”

Doll says the auto maker later this year will introduce the new Legacy and Outback, but declines to reveal any future product discussed with the dealer body at today’s franchise meeting.

However, Gunnar Heuberger, owner of Heuberger Subaru in Colorado Springs, CO, which ranked as the No.1 Subaru retailer in 2008, says executives at the meeting talked about plans for 2009.

“(Subaru dealers) are going to continue doing what we are doing and launching new cars,” he says. “We have fantastic product coming. The Legacy is new and bigger and we’ll do really well with it. We were No.1 in the nation last year, and hopefully we’ll stay the course.”

Brian Hamilton, owner of Beardmore Subaru in Omaha, NE, also saw positive sales results in 2008.

“We were up close to 50% over the year before,” he says. “We’ve been there since 1995 – we have a dedicated Subaru sales, service and parts, and we are a standalone. The main thing is having great leases through Chase and great products, of course.

“The partnership with Chase is outstanding, so we are very optimistic. It’s pretty exciting.”

dstark@wardsauto.com